Dec. 21, 2011
Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene are the men behind the television curtain who have brought such notable shows as “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “A Gifted Man” to the home theater screen. “Kill Switch” is their first novel, and it’s a great one: a smooth-flowing, seamlessly collaborative narrative that keeps the reader engrossed and guessing from first page to last.
The book opens with a 1989 vignette that anyone with young children will find terrifying: a Rochester girl is abducted while her friend watches, terrified and helpless. The narrative then fast-forwards to the present, where Claire Waters, a brilliant medical school graduate, is completing a fellowship in forensic psychiatry. Her program consists of treating inmates at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, where, under the watchful eye of Dr. Paul Curtain, she is evaluating a sex offender named Todd Quimby. It turns out that Waters is the one who saw her best friend abducted, a secret she carries with her but that haunts her waking and sleeping hours. Her memories come into sharp focus when she recommends that Quimby be released into a supervised treatment program.
Quimby is no sooner released than a series of grisly murders begin to occur, all of which bear a marked similarity to each other, as well as to a killing that just took place before Quimby’s initial incarceration. A New York homicide detective named Nick Lawler is immediately thrust into the investigation. Lawler, who had been administratively suspended a year previously, had been investigating the initial murder and hopes this will put his career back on the track where it should be. But Lawler has two problems: He dislikes psychiatrists, so that his contact with Waters, who is assisting the police in the apprehension of Quimby, is like mixing oil with water; and he is hiding a secret of his own, one that will change his life forever once it becomes known.
Lawler and Waters form what is initially an uneasy working relationship that slowly but naturally enables each to help the other overcome the problem that they previously had been facing alone. As Lawler and Waters become more comfortable working together, they solve two cases: one with a life-and-death immediacy, and the other that has festered for decades without closure. Neither case is resolved without several twists and turns that keep both of them — and the reader — guessing almost until the last page.
“Kill Switch,” as one might expect from the authors’ histories, is a cinematic narrative where the chapters move like reels, starting out quickly and accelerating all the way to an exciting conclusion. So it’s no surprise that plans are already in the works for a feature film adaptation of the book, which will star Katherine Heigl as Waters. Please note: The book is not a mash-up of Baer’s and Greene’s television work. While it does utilize their trademark plot twists, the characters are cut from new and intriguing cloth and the plotting is fresh. This is an extremely impressive debut from a team that has a winning multimedia track record, and I look forward to the next two installments of their planned trilogy.