Dead On by Ann Kelly
(iUniverse / 0-595-32664-1 / August 2004 / 204 pages / $14.95)
Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors, and the movies of his that I like best are in the same genre as Dead On. We don't know who the killer is until the end, but he seems to be a fascinating, psychopathic character. Ann Kelly has crafted a fine first novel with a plotline that is easily visualized as a movie thriller. Homage is also paid to William Petersen as both Gil Grissom and the Manhunter, a movie that I have always felt should have been a monster hit for both Petersen and Michael Mann. The former had to zip up his Quincy suit to become famous, and the latter was already famous for the coke and Scarab patrol on Miami Vice, but those are other stories. The plot of Dead On would seem like just another pyscho killer chase if Scully and Mulder had not let one of their spooky plots escape from the set of The X-Files.
Ann Yang is a new ME of Chinese descent who has just begun her new job in Doylestown, PA. She would really like to forget that butthead she had married in an immature moment of stupidity, and a mystery based in the history of her own century-old house was sufficient to drive out the rotten marriage demons. Although she is never really certain if the butthead has not returned to terrorize her, someone has insinuated his way into her life in a most disturbing manner. A serial killer is leaving buttons from a Civil War uniform at the scenes of his crimes. Ann has discovered an intriguing diary hidden in her new/old house, and the issues may or may not be related. She has a trusted friend to help her with the case, a retired FBI agent with loads of street sense and a devotion to both Ann and his own family. The two sleuths track the killer through both time and space. Don't ask me to explain it. The plot is a mystery, and the secrets are not revealed until the end. Is Dead On a supernatural story? To some degree, yes. Is it a mystery with convolutions that would make even Mr. DePalma dizzy? Yes.
Much of the plot surrounds a diary composed in 1903. Whenever the heroine reads this diary, the text is in italics. Multiple, whole pages of italics are annoying to read. This and the incredibly short chapters are easily the leading negatives of Dead On. A lot more description of the characters and the motives behind their actions would expand the length of these half-page chapters considerably. The text is so brief that the reader is sometimes left a bit confused. It is unclear if the author meant to impart an especially quick pacing to the story, intentionally lead the reader down blind alleys, or introduce characters and subplots that she is saving for a sequel. Whatever the case, this completes the actions of my Complaint Department.
Ann Kelly has crafted a highly rated first effort about a time-traveling psycho-killer and his CSI-type pursuer. She throws in the Civil War, schizophrenia, lesbian love, past-life regression, pre-Katrina New Orleans, and the kitchen sink. You wouldn't think all this would fit into 204 pages, but it does. You will like this little dose of escapist fiction if the genres of murder mystery and serial killers are two of your favorites. If you are an X-Files fan, too, you will probably love it to death.