The Fever Kill
Creeping Hemlock Press
Reviewed By Blu Gilliand
Tom Piccirilli is a literary chameleon. Whenever he chooses to work in a particular genre, his voice takes on the bold colors and subtle shadings of his surroundings. His westerns, Grave Men and Coffin Blues, are dust-covered sagas that evoke the spirit of Louis L’Amour. His southern gothic tales, A Choir of Ill Children and November Mourns, are so steeped in the humid language of the swamplands that the pages are damp. He also writes straight-up horror tales, mysteries, and even poetry. With his latest novel, The Fever Kill, Piccirilli struts into the crime fiction field, where he’ll doubtless be welcomed with open arms.
Piccirilli has dabbled in the crime genre before, most recently with The Midnight Road, but those efforts have all been flavored with the supernatural. In its own way, The Fever Kill is also a ghost story, just not in the traditional sense: the ghosts that haunt the “bent cop” at the center of this novel are the mistakes and mysteries of his past. They are the kinds of things that don’t go bump in the night, but instead ride permanent shotgun with a man trying to figure out where his life went wrong.
Crease has returned to the town of Hangtree to uncover the truth about his father, the disgraced, deceased former sheriff who was embroiled in a scandal over the death of a kidnapped girl. Crease himself is emerging from two years of undercover work, a time in which the line between duty and honor became impossibly blurred. He’s blown his cover, his enraged ex-boss is hot on his trail, his mistress is pregnant, and his wife and son are moving on without him.
Piccirilli, whose work is often dense and lyrical, streamlines his prose to a razor’s edge in The Fever Kill. And while the language is sparse, the cast of characters Piccirilli has created is characteristically deep. Among the standouts are Crease, a complex man desperately searching for a sense of normalcy and peace that he’s never before experienced; his old girlfriend, Reb, a washed up small-town beauty for whom the paltry sum of $15,000 is a lifeline just out of reach; and Tucco, the crime boss targeted by Crease’s undercover work, who is angry enough to trail him to Hangtree, but gracious enough to let Crease finish his personal quest before answering for his betrayal.
The Fever Kill is yet another left turn in the career of a writer determined to follow his own meandering path. Whatever it is that guides Piccirilli down the road, let’s hope he keeps following, because it hasn’t led him wrong yet.
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