When is a ghost story merely a frightening fiction and when does it become real? Thankfully, most of us will ever have to make such a distinction, but journalist Patrick Rush isn’t so lucky. His job at a Toronto newspaper as a book critic threatened, Patrick is struggling to raise his young son, Sam, whose mother died soon after the child was born.
Torn between fatherhood and career, Patrick watches his prospects slip away as technology impacts the newspaper business. His work ethic declines apace. Answering an ad for an intimate, limited-member writer’s circle, Rush hopes to find his own story - or at least a diversion from his problems.
What he discovers is an unfolding nightmare, a confusion between fact and fiction that escapes from one woman’s eerie tale of “a bad man who does bad things” into his own imagination and finally into reality as a serial murderer in Rush’s neighborhood claims one butchered victim after another.
By the end of the tale, most of the members of the writer’s circle are dead and Patrick’s beloved son, Sam, has been kidnapped. Paranoia all but cripples Rush, who has used his experiences in the circle to catapult himself to fame as an author.
An immensely talented writer, as seen in his novel The Wildfire Season, in The Killing Circle Pyper has created a strange mix of eccentric and borderline characters, a tale about writers - from Angela, whose weekly renderings of The Sandman seep into Rush’s subconscious, to William, a giant, frightening individual who writes with escalating violence, intimidating the others in the group.
But Rush is no innocent, and the reader should not trust him either, no stranger to self-deception and dark secrets. More troublesome than the writer-writing-about-writers theme is a lack of motive that undermines the impact of this book, at least for me. I understand the escalation of violence - the murders, the overlapping of fact and fiction - but a concrete motive for the actions eludes me.
I know that Pyper is an exceptionally talented writer, but The Killing Circle is a disappointment on many levels, not the least of which is a resolution that includes a direct question to “Dear Reader”, a rather Victorian conceit. Leave me out of it, please.