Maddy's Reviews > Season of the Assassin

Season of the Assassin by Thomas Laird
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's review
May 30, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2003-reads
Read in February, 2003

In the course of a homicide detective's career, he or she is exposed to every manner of horrific crime. In order to be able to survive seeing what one human has done to another, the detective tends to dissociate and look at things from a distance so that they can continue to function. But then there is the case from which it is impossible to put oneself at a distance, one in which the detective becomes emotionally involved and, possibly, obsessed. The brutal murder of 7 student nurses in the 60s is the case that has taken over the life of Jake Parisi. The women were subjected to untold terror, being restrained and hearing what was happening to their roommates before facing the same themselves. One woman escaped by hiding under a bed, but she fell into a comatose state and was never able to testify about what happened on that horrible night.

Parisi knows who did it, a sleaze by the name of Carl Anglin. He is more sure of that than he is of the paternity of his own son. He is completely obsessed—he is consumed by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. No witnesses, no footprints, no trace points to him, but Jake knows he is the one. There are larger things at play. For some reason, Carl Anglin seems to be protected by the government. He is actually living a rather glorious life in the aftermath of the fame of being accused and released. A best-selling book, women, parties—the high life is his. Meanwhile, Jake continues on his own self-destructive course, an alcoholic, a miserable husband, and ultimately faces his own death before he can nab Anglin.

It's 30 years later, 1999, and a murder that is frighteningly similar to the nurse massacre occurs. There's only one person who can pick up on that link, Jimmy Parisi, who, like his father, has become a homicide detective. Jimmy's a very different man from his father, more balanced and smoother around the edges; but now he is being consumed by the same obsession that ate his father alive. He too feels that Anglin is under some kind of protective veil, the edges of which he tries to lift but is never able to totally uncover. Jimmy knows a lot about the case from having witnessed the impact of the prior murders on his father and goes about reinvestigating the murders in 1969 as well. His only hope is the nurse who is living in a mental hospital, who has never spoken a word since that day. His efforts to bring her back to life are difficult, particularly since he does not want to reveal her whereabouts and have her become victim to Anglin once again.

The book is very well written and uses a unique device in which the chapters alternate between the father in 1968-69 and the son in 1998-99. It's fascinating to see the similarities in the situations they face and the way that they choose to deal with them. Laird does a wonderful job of distinguishing the voice of Jake from the voice of Jimmy. Jimmy's the better human being, but Jake is dogged in his pursuit of justice. Once Jake dies, the book alternates between Jimmy in 1979 and Jimmy in 1999. That didn't work very well for me.

Laird has an assured writing style that carries the reader along, well paced and plotted with characters who were richly detailed. The one thing that kept me from rating the book as "fabulous" was the hypothesis that Jimmy comes up with for the protection that Anglin seems to be receiving. He feels that Anglin was involved in a very large event in US history. I couldn't buy that, as this event has been investigated in minute detail for many years. I would have preferred a fictional explanation instead of trying to tie it to a real event in this way.

I also felt that Laird lost control of the book in its denouement and provided a rather implausible finale to Mr. Anglin. The ending is sticking in my craw a bit, although overall, I found the book to be an excellent read and a fascinating study in character.


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