CriminOlly thinks: A mix of police procedural and extreme horror that misses the mark a bit on the former but absolutely nails the gore. 3/5
Title: Headhunter | Author: Michael Slade | Series: Special X #1 | Publisher: Star Books | Pages: 477 | Publication date: 1984 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
I read ‘Headhunter’, the first of Canadian author Michael Slade’s Special X series, decades ago as a teenager and really liked it. Returning to it years later I didn’t find it quite as good as I’d expected, but still had fun with it. It’s an appropriate book to review here, as Slade is a McBain fan. The master is noted in the acknowledgements and there are a couple of references to the 87th Precinct within the book, with a character recommending to one of the cops that he gives them a try.
Slade is described in the bio as a pseudonym used by a group of partners in a law firm. His Twitter presence today suggests he is just one person now, so not sure if the writing partnership dissolved at some point.
The book details an investigation by an elite team of Mounties into a series of sex murders where the female victims are decapitated. It’s a kind of hybrid of police procedural and out and out horror, with the original marketing of the books definitely leaning more towards the latter. The horror is pretty brilliantly done. It’s extremely graphic and quite shocking at times, with a tonne of perverse sex thrown in for good measure. That may account for my fond memories of the book from my teenage years.
What works less well is the plotting. At 470 pages it’s way too long and the storytelling is muddy and confusing at times, darting all over the place. McBain’s influence is clear in some of the prose and the flashes of humour through the book, but unfortunately not in tightness of the writing. I’m not sure if the issues may in part be down to the fact that it was written by a team, but it could definitely have used a better editor to trim it down.
For all that though, when it’s good it is very good. The action and horror scenes crackle and it’s so imaginatively disgusting that it gets a thumbs up from me. I’ve been gradually picking up the later books in the series, so expect to see more reviews here soon.
The women aren’t safe with a beheading killer on the lose. Detective Robert DeClercq was even eluded as he and the police combed the lower depths of the sexual underground on two continents.
Content Warning: Racism, sexual violence, incest, graphic gore
Tolerance Warning: All good