Go Your Own Way

I had planned, all week, to take yesterday as a day off. I am going to have to write and edit like a madman all of my vacation (woo-hoo! I’m on vacation!) and decided that yesterday, and Thanksgiving day itself, would be my days to do nothing but putter around the house and read and so forth. I also somehow wound up in Facebook jail for posting a photo of a guy in a bikini three years ago that someone somehow decided yesterday ‘violated their community standards of nudity’–who knew that a man in a bikini was naked? Puritans. So I went to Costco and cleaned up around the house and spent the day finishing reading Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall, and once I was finished with that, I started reading William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel, around essays from Barbara Tuchman’s Practicing History.

Damn, I do love to read.

We also started getting caught up on the shows we watch last night.

It was time.

Adrian Miller had planned to wait, a few more days, another week, maybe. Hell, when he woke up for school that morning, before school, he wasn’t even sure he would do it anymore. He’d thought about his mom and dad and sister, about Lucas, and wondered what kind of monster would want to hurt them the way he was planning. He’d hugged his parents goodbye and walked out the front door, and it was a beautiful fall morning, crisp and bracing and clear, and he’d decided, not yet. Maybe not ever.

But then he showed up at school, and it all started again.

Lucas wouldn’t talk to him. Lucas never talked to him, not in public, anyway. Lucas avoided his eyes in the hallway, wouldn’t eat lunch with him, made him wait until the final bell rang and they could go to the park, or to Lucas’ dad’s basement, somewhere far away from school and Lucas’ real friends.

I really, really loved this book.

Take this opening. Laukkanen perfectly captures the experience of what it feels like to be that kid; the one who has no friends, the one who counts the minutes until the final bell rings, who dreads going to gym class or the cafeteria for lunch and going to school every morning; who dreads going to bed every night because it means when you wake up you have to go to school again; what it feels like to wish you would die in your sleep so it would all be over; to wonder if you would ever have the nerve to kill yourself.

I was that kid once.

When I bought the book (because I wanted to read one of Owen’s books) I didn’t realize it was a book in a series, but to be honest, I didn’t realize it was a series until I was well into it, and by then I couldn’t stop reading even if I had wanted to; and it didn’t matter at all. Maybe the reading experience would have been heightened by having read the series in its proper order (I’m a bit obsessive about this sort of thing) but I didn’t feel like I missed anything. It worked perfectly well as an introduction to the series (which I am now going to go back and read), and that’s truly not an easy thing to do. (I don’t think, for example, my series can be read out of order.)

The series characters are Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, who work on a joint FBI-BCA violent crime task force. They get involved in this particular case when Stevens’ daughter–distraught about her classmate Adrian Miller’s suicide–asks them to do something about it. There isn’t much they can do at first, but as a courtesy they start looking into it, and soon discover an ugly world on-line of suicide groups and chatboards…and disturbed individuals who encourage the suicidal to go through with it. Adrian was the victim of one such person, and as they start to dig into this subculture more, they soon realize that there will be more kids talked into killing themselves while this person watches via webcam.

What makes the book so brilliant, though, is that Laukkanen takes us into the mind of the psychopath as well; how he became this person who enjoys watching young people kill themselves, how much he enjoys playing the game, and how he has turned it into a for-profit business. And while it is a slithery, creepy, horrifying place to be–at the same time you can’t help but feel some empathy for this awful, horrible person you want to be caught; since you know the backstory of how he came to be this monster. This fleshes him out, makes him more real–and all the more terrifying, as it is easy to see how such a psychopath is created.

Laukkanen also shows us the point of view of his new target, a sad lonely girl who hates her life, lured in by an Internet boyfriend she meets on one of the suicide chat boards and comes to know through Facebook and other social media (he uses the pictures of an attractive boy who committed suicide already to create this fake presence, and we learn how he does this and how easy teenagers are prey to this sort of thing–which is also terrifying), and finally she decides to go meet him, taking a bus from Tampa to Louisville…and the race is on for Stevens and Windermere to save her.

The pacing is amazing; you never want to put the book down. The writing is superb, and Laukkanen’s characters are all very real.

Oddly enough, once I finished reading this I realized I actually already had the first book in the series, The Professionals, in my TBR pile.

Looking forward to reading some more of Owen Laukkanen.

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