An Excellent Psychological Thriller: Amongst The Killing by Joe Compton ★★★★★

This LA-based thriller by indie author Joe Compton is as much about the consequences of career choices and the obligations of family, as well as grief, suicidal impulses, a media-obsessed America, fear and redemption.

The story switches (chapter by chapter) between Detective Chuck Street, whose recent assignment to the Robbery-Homicide division of the LAPD is both a fulfilment of his dreams and the indirect cause of his nightmares; and serial killer, Jack Casey, a man who believes society is worthless and pathetic, and so in fits of anger, kills.  The alternation of chapters between both detective and killer works on two levels.  First, the obvious and forefront cat-and-mouse-chase aspect, which serves as an effective way this book, as a thriller, creates tension. Secondly, this technique allows us to see the obvious differences between the two main characters, but crucially – and surprisingly – their similarities, which deepens the already burgeoning tension and creates thematic complexity.  It was this last aspect that really got me hooked.

This uneasy drawing of overlapping motivations between the two men really began a journey in what turned out to be an engrossing character-driven psychological thriller.  Indeed it was the emotional states of both characters, but particularly Chuck Street’s grief about the loss of his family, that really left me impressed.  Other novels may have brushed over his grief in a few pages, but Compton explores this brilliantly and thoroughly.  Chuck’s horrific alcohol-induced visions allows us glimpses into his unravelling psyche, while his quieter moments demonstrate tender feelings of loss, for example, when he reads his wife’s old books.  Scenes like this are written with a lightness of touch you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a book of this genre.

An undercurrent of humour also runs throughout the novel, most of which come from the chapters involving Jack Casey.  We can’t help but relate to his anger at society, the sheer stupidity of it.  In one particular scene, we watch with fascination as he manipulates his own wife into sleeping with him.  It’s a funny, guilty pleasure watching him seduce her for his own tawdry needs.  And his killings, because they are unplanned, also provide off-beat humour, while, of course, remaining realistic and gruesome.

The book is thoroughly well-researched in terms of police procedure, the relationships between Chuck, his partner and Captain Rose, and the way the different departments interact, particularly the LAPD and the Marshall’s Office.

Amongst The Killing is a book I would recommend for fans of character-driven psychological thrillers.  As a pacey, tension-filled page-turner it succeeds; as a portrait of the interior states of two men brought to the edge of who they are, it excels.


Amongst the Killing is available from Amazon and Smashwords