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The Return of Chaos
Chris Mooney is a smart, resourceful young writer who has not yet fully assimilated his influences. On the one hand, his debut novel, Deviant Ways, is an overly familiar psycho-killer thriller that leans too heavily on the work of other writers, particularly Thomas Harris. On the other hand, it's a vital, frequently exciting novel, the clear product of a natural storyteller struggling to discover his own true voice.
The hero of Deviant Ways is Jack Casey, a lineal descendent of Red Dragon's Will Graham. Casey is a former FBI profiler whose career ended when a Lecter-like psychopath named Miles Hamilton murdered Casey's pregnant young wife. By the time the novel opens, Jack has tentatively reestablished the elements of a worthwhile life. He has fallen in love with a beautiful, successful photographer and now works as a police detective in the stress-free, upscale environs of Marblehead, Massachusetts. His peaceful existence and tenuous sense of emotional stability end abruptly when a stone-cold killer called the Sandman sets up shop in Marblehead.
The Sandman is an irreversibly damaged young man who murders entire families, then destroys all evidence through a series of massive, remote-controlled explosions. Casey's attempts to identify and capture the Sandman, and to understand his underlying motives, dominate the narrative, leading Casey to a series of near-fatal encounters: with the elusive Sandman, with a desperate cabal of renegade FBI agents who have secrets of their own, and with the darkest, most violent aspects of his own nature. In the course of a protracted manhunt that leads from Marblehead to rural Maine, Casey faces a multitude of debilitating memories, risks the loss of everything -- and everyone -- he loves, and finds himself forced, in the climactic chapters, to reenact the most devastating moments of his life.
Deviant Ways is a kitchen sink kind of novel that offers something for everyone: high-speed car chases, government conspiracies, primal confrontations, and breathless escapes, together with a vivid, convincing assortment of technological marvels. In spite of the familiarity of much of the material (such as the by now clichéd portrait of a-cop-who-can-think-like-a-psychopath), Mooney's novel gradually establishes a dramatic life of its own. In the end, it has something substantial to say about grief, trauma, madness, and abuse. For all its indebtedness to other books, Deviant Ways remains a compelling, sometimes powerful debut. It will be interesting to see where its gifted young author goes from here.