SON OF A GUN and FOUNDERS’ KEEPER, by Ed Markham
Based on its essential role in everything I write, buy, or watch, I expect the Internet knows me pretty well by now. Every once in a while I get a sign that that might actually be a good thing – most recently through Amazon, where a team of people behind a mysterious curtain tracks my browsing habits and online reviews to come up with books that I have a good chance of liking.
The latest recommendations are for the work of Ed Markham, author of SON OF A GUN and FOUNDERS’ KEEPER. Because the lineup I see most mornings when I log on is full of brand name authors, I hadn’t heard of him. But at some point, thanks to Amazon, I ordered his thriller, SON OF A GUN. I started it on a Sunday night with that “I’ll just read a few pages before I go to sleep.” mindset. An hour later I was a third of the way through, and completely spellbound.
SON OF A GUN is about a possibility most parents forcibly push out of their minds – the abductions of their kids. In this case they’re 13 and 14-year-old boys living in upper middle class neighborhoods with good schools and nicely tended yards – places where families are lulled into believing they’re completely safe. What the good moms and dads don’t know is that there’s a serial killer who’s obsessed with his need to hide his true nature – a need that’s manifested in his placement of white masks over the faces of the boys he murders. The masks bear no expression, conveying nothing but a blankness that shouldn’t scare you. Except that it does, especially when you realize the masks are a mental projection of the face the killer wears to blend into the regular world, right up to the point where he shoots the boys through their hearts.
This genuinely frightening narrative is underscored by the relationship between a father-son team of FBI investigators. The primary, David Yerxa, is assisted and guided by his semi-retired dad, Martin. David’s eager progress to unravel the psychologically twisted mystery that leads to the abductions and murders is supported and occasionally turbocharged by Martin’s wisdom and experience with a related case. Both characters are natural leaders – exactly the type of guys the parents of these children would wish for in investigators to the disappearances of their kids.
The ticking clock fight to catch the bad guy before he kills again becomes especially compelling in chapters from the perspective of Carson Affeldt, the latest boy to be abducted. Markham does a masterful job of getting into the head of a kid who skips school to smoke cigarettes and look “cool” to older kids, yet bursts into tears in the horrifying moments when he realizes, in the killer’s locked basement, that he’s probably going to die. Fortunately, Carson has wits and gumption, and realizes he might stand a chance when he notices something that’s not quite right about the layout of that basement room. Underlying that narrative is Markham’s keen understanding of the social politics of high school and the vulnerabilities that lead 14-year-old boys to pick and choose friends who will strengthen or propel their position on the ladder of popularity.
From the first pages to the last, I kept wondering what would happen next, and was genuinely surprised by the identity of the bad guy and thrilled with the way David and Martin Yerxa brought him into the light.
It was only then, when I got ready to post my Amazon review, that I realized Markham had another book, FOUNDERS’ KEEPER. This is an astoundingly original story that actually turns the Constitution into an instrument of terror for a serial killer. It’s also pretty scary – first because every one of the murders is vividly wrought with imagery that stayed in my mind; second because the possibility – in a world where people could actually elect a whacko to become the next president – of the possibility that the killer’s justification for the murders could happen in real-life.
In this book – which was written prior to SON OF A GUN – Martin Yerxa’s deep knowledge of American history and the Founding Fathers era becomes an essential compass in the efforts by Martin, David and another FBI agent to navigate their way toward an understanding the killer’s mindset. The trail is lined with clues based on where the murders take place, the ways in which the victims are killed, and the language of the Constitution. Along the way we meet one of the creepiest murderers I’ve seen in recent thrillers, a perfectly realized character who embodies what happens when victims of terrible childhoods grow up to wreak terror in their adult lives.
Once again I was mesmerized by the story and the characters, and sent into that wonderful place where reading becomes more important than just about anything else. I was also genuinely stunned by the ending, which was more surprising than anything I’ve read in recent months. I was also confounded by yet another mystery: why hasn’t a major publisher seized the opportunity to send both of these books right up to the tops of the bestseller lists? Based on more than 250 customer reviews, Amazon knows they’re absolute winners – and if Amazon knows this, publishers should likewise know that Ed Markham is a master storyteller who has everything it takes to become one of those brand-names who commands that first row of “recommendations” every time you log on.
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