Sunday, September 27, 2015


THE HUNDREDTH MAN by Jack Kerley (HarperCollins, 2005)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A cracking debut that introduces intriguing young Alabama detective Carson Ryder, and launches a superb series set in the sweltering South. 

There's something special, and fun, about absorbing the first raw notes of a new crime fiction voice, crossing fingers and hoping to uncover a gem of an author, and perhaps a character worth following through books and years to come.

One of the finest debuts I've read in the past few years is advertiser-turned-author Jack Kerley's first Carson Ryder tale, THE HUNDREDTH MAN. It's the type of book that has a distinct style and voice, a twist on standard tropes, delivering a fresh take in a crowded genre that made me want to go and read more of Kerley's work (I discovered this book when Kerley had already published a few novels, and in fact I was inspired to go and buy and read all of them in the following couple of months).

For me, THE HUNDREDTH MAN earned Kerley a rare, immediate elevation to 'must read' author status.

Kerley’s debut tale hits like a hammer right from the opening pages, quickly moving from missing fingers to missing heads, all in the sweltering heat of Mobile, Alabama. Two headless bodies scrawled in barely decipherable ranting spark junior detective Carson Ryder (something of a young upstart) and veteran partner Harry Nautilus onto the trail of another serial killer, one that dredges up past secrets for many people, including Ryder himself. He's forced to do something he doesn't want to, as he's trying to further establish his career. Ryder and Nautilus are the Mobile Police Deparment’s Psychopathological and Sociopathological Investigative Team (PSIT), which is dismissively called “Piss-it” by other police colleagues.

Ryder is a fascinating character - both admired and loathed by colleagues and superiors, having hitched onto the fast-track following a successful serial killer pursuit the year before – seemingly thanks to Ryder’s innate understanding of “crazies and freaks”. The thing is, Ryder has a secretive ace up his sleeve, or perhaps more of a wildcard: his brother Jeremy, an incarcerated serial killer. Ryder has done a lot over the years, including changing his name, to hide this part of his past, but sociopathic Jeremy helped Ryder on the case that helped kickstart his promising career, leading to plenty of internal and external tension for the young detective.

The whole serial killer helping an investigator trope isn't that unique in crime fiction, but Kerley brings a fresh take to it, not just because of the familial relationship, but the well-drawn characters of Ryder and Jeremy. The relationship between the brothers, as well as Ryder's conflicted feelings about his sibling, add extra layers to what is a well-plotted and exciting book, storyline-wise.

There are some great possibilities to see how things might evolve both with the character of Ryder, and his relationship with Jeremy, over the course of more than one book (that did prove to be the case). Jeremy is one of the most fascinating 'villains' I've read in any book series in a long time.

Detective Carson Ryder is a little different to the typical detective, although exhibits some classic traits: doggedness, courage, a murky past (despite his youth) that created ongoing issues to deal with, etc. For me, the best storytelling strikes a balance between the familiar and the unique, and matches engaging characters with exciting plots and well-drawn settings.

In THE HUNDREDTH MAN, Kerley’s writing puts a huge tick in all boxes, but more importantly, brings everything together into a gripping tale unfolding naturally from the characters, backstory, and setting – never feeling forced by an authorial puppet-master. It was a gem uncovered, and made me want to read more.

I read this book a few years ago, having picked it up in a 'bargain bin' at a local bookstore. I loved it,  immediately buying the following titles in the series, and reviewed it elsewhere. I'm revisiting it now, to expand on my initial thoughts. 

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