Nikki's Reviews > Catch Me: Kill Me

Catch Me by William H. Hallahan
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Aug 28, 2008

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bookshelves: edgar-best-novel-winners, fiction, mysteries, books-set-in-new-york
Read in August, 2008

A recent contributor to the DorothyL mystery discussion list, differentiating among mysteries, thrillers and suspense, said that thrillers are focused on "how." That made a lot of sense to me in the context of many of the late-70s Edgar winners I've been reading lately. CATCH ME: KILL ME begins with the kidnapping of a Russian poet (who has defected to the US) in Grand Central Station. As several agencies meet to discuss the event, it becomes evident that the kidnappers all have diplomatic immunity and there is no "legal" way to retrieve the poet. The twist in this thriller is that there are two agents working the case. One, Brewer, is actually an ex-agent who hopes to win his position back by rescuing the Russian poet -- but HOW? The other, Leary, battles interagency rivalries and stonewalling witnesses to find out WHY the poet (who had lived peacefully in America for 3 years or so) was kidnapped in the first place.

CATCH ME: KILL ME is very much a post-Watergate book, and a book set largely in New York City in the aftermath of the famous Daily News headline, "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD." There are even echoes of the (much earlier) Kitty Genovese case in scenes where passers-by ignore people being beaten in front of them. The New York of book: CATCH ME: KILL ME] is bankrupt both economically and morally, an extremely depressing place.

This, indeed, was the major fault I found with the book. It could have been a good deal shorter without some of the interminable descriptions of Brewer's pool-playing neighbor, which added rather too much atmosphere without advancing the plot. Some of the characters Leary encounters talk a bit too much as well. In other words, the book took too long to get to the "thrilling" parts.

Both CATCH ME: KILL ME and book:HOPSCOTCH] dealt with forcibly retired CIA agents and their distasteful former supervisors. But if Miles Kendig and Myerson in HOPSCOTCH were the stuff of comedy, Brewer and the odious Geller in Hallahan's book came awfully close to tragedy, and in fact, it's perfectly possible that after the book's last page, there may well be a tragic outcome for at least one character. Although I had to struggle to finish this book, I do find myself thinking about it several days later, and I think too that it caught the prevailing mood of its time, which got its author the Edgar Award for Best Novel.
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