Dean Thibodeaux is the lead guitarist in the failing band “Man Made Murder”: on the night before the band’s departure for a tour none of them is very sanguine about, he follows a shady biker to an abandoned shack, with the goal of buying some drugs, but the guy reveals himself as a vampire who then proceeds to attack Dean. The guitarist, badly hurt and shocked, manages to escape and drive over the vampire with his truck: once he rejoins the band for the tour he worries at the terrible changes his body is undergoing. Carl Delacroix is a man obsessed: hunting for the individual he’s convinced killed his younger sister two years before, he goes on a relentless pursuit across the country, following a biker whose appearance and dress are quite similar to Dean Thibodeaux’s attacker’s…
This is the intriguing premise of Man Made Murder: this novel develops along two separate threads that are destined to connect and does so with a steady, fast-paced progression that manages to show the inevitability of events while at the same time keeping narrative and emotional tension at the highest levels. What happens to the two main characters can be described as a train-wreck in progress: you know how certain situations are going to end, and yet you are incapable of taking your eyes off the page and need to go on, to the bitter end. There is an overall darkness in this story, a darkness of the soul that has nothing to do with what happens to the characters but is rather something they already carry within themselves. It’s obvious for Carl, because of the enormous guilt weighing on him for the failure to protect his younger sister, but it’s less so for Dean who – despite the downward spiral of the band – has a lot going for him, not least the strong sense of camaraderie, of family, enjoyed by the group of musicians.
These are the book’s points of strength, and the very reason I stayed with it until the end – which is not a real end because this is the first volume in a trilogy and the last chapter hints at story developments that are just as intriguing as the premise: why then did I give such a low rating to Man Made Murder?
One of the reasons is characterization, and particularly Carl’s: on one side it’s understandable that he would cave in under the mountain of guilt for not being there when his sister needed him most, but his determination – his obsession – to find her killer when the police all but abandon the search is fueled more by whining self-recrimination than true desire to see justice done. When he finally finds the man he believes killed his Sophie, events conspire to take his vengeance from him: does he rant and rave about the unfairness of it all? No. His attitude is rather: “Oh, well, the guy’s dead anyway and I didn’t even get blood on my hands. Let’s go home and have pizza!” The situation gets even worse when Carl discovers a chilling truth about the man he thought was his only friend: he does not mourn so much his blindness in not seeing the signs, he grieves (and whines, of course) because now he’s all alone in the world…
To say I was puzzled would be a huge understatement: there was such a massive buildup in his search for vengeance and justice, that the aftermath seems like the proverbial mouse birthed by a mountain.
For his part, Dean seems to move in a sort of drugged state that’s understandable from the point of view of what happened – and is still happening – to him, but at the same time gives us nothing of who and what he is underneath all this.
Neither of these characters does anything to emotionally involve me: while I was able to follow the story with keen interest, for the reasons I stated above, I could not summon any empathy for them, and to me this is quite wrong.
The other factor at the root of my displeasure is the author’s seeming fascination with the f* word in its many variations, as well as with bodily functions: if, from a certain point of view, I understand that these are elements that contribute to the grittiness of a story, from another the abuse of those same elements can defeat its own purpose and turn gritty into grotesque. I doubt that this was the intent in this particular choice, but my reaction to these endless repetitions was a mixture of boredom and annoyance: again, not the kind of reaction I expect from an otherwise riveting tale. In other words, great ideas but faulty delivery, and a great disappointment.