April Review: Killer Instinct by S E Green

Review time, and this month it’s a Teen Thriller published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. I picked it because the marketing spiel promised an ambitious combination of Dexter with Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and it hooked me on concept alone. So, how did it live up to such lofty heights…?
[Warning: some minor spoilers are included in the review]

Killer Instict
S. E. Green

Lane is a typical teenager. Loving family. Good grades. After-school job at the local animal hospital. Martial arts enthusiast. But her secret obsession is studying serial killers. She understands them, knows what makes them tick.

Why?
Because she might be one herself.

Lane channels her dark impulses by hunting criminals and delivering justice when the law fails. The vigilantism stops shy of murder, but with each visceral rush, the line of self-control blurs. And when a young preschool teacher goes missing—and returns in pieces—Lane gets a little too excited about tracking down “the Decapitator,” the vicious serial murderer who has come to her hometown.

As she gets dangerously caught up in a web of lies about her own past, Lane realizes she is no longer invisible or safe. Especially after the Decapitator contacts her directly. Now she needs to use her unique talents to find the true killer’s identity before she—or someone she loves—becomes the next victim…

How was the story?
As I mentioned, it was the concept of this story that made me interested to read it, and I found it interesting to follow Lane on her journey to develop her skills and satiate the needs that she has. There was a strong narrative voice right from the start and it can’t be easy to create a likeable character from someone who enjoys violence and pain; so kudos to Green for that. However, I have to admit that I found the opening of the story to be fragmentary and sometimes a bit dull. The majority of earlier chapters tell the reader what is going on, rather than showing it, and there isn’t much conflict to begin with, even in scenes that should be full of tension. Having said that, the pace picks up and the writing improves as the story develops. There were lots of plot lines, which I found distracting at the start, but then began to see how they interacted and make the story multi-layered and much more interesting.

The story develops quickly, with each incident escalating the main plot, though I was disinclined to believe some of logical elements that Lane assumes with her early attempts at trying to get justice. Often things seemed far too convenient and I had some issues with aspects of the cases – such as Lane presuming that a woman suffering with a serious illness such as post-partum depression deserves to die under any circumstance.

The crowing glory of the story was definitely the ending. Green handled it like a Thriller pro; giving us all the clues to build up to the final reveal and yet providing us with numerous suspects so you never quite know who it’s going to be. This in itself made me read on and I didn’t pick up on who the Decapitator was until Chapter 29 – just 5 chapters before the end. As a result, I really enjoyed the last third of the book and finished reading with fervour and respect.

Were the characters fleshed out and believable?
Lane, as the main character, had a very strong narrative voice which I immediately liked. However I did find some inconsistencies in her personality: her attempts to be sociable don’t match with her self-admitted loner status, nor does one typical of her proclivities generally adore animals. In addition, I didn’t understand her attraction to Zach and the sexual interaction that happens caught me completely off-guard and took me out of the scene. Some of the other characters also had similar questionable motivations , but generally these were minor characters so I could move past it.

Because Green sets up so many suspects and has Lane query everything and everyone in her life at one point, it is difficult to say whether some of the other characters were as fleshed out as they should be. All the main players appear to be keeping secrets of some kind and because the story is told from Lane’s point of view the reader can never really know the full extent of each character. This is a good technique for the genre, but it does mean that – by the end of the novel – I didn’t feel I really knew any of the other characters but Lane.

What I enjoyed most.
Most definitely the ending. As previously stated, Green leads us to the final reveal with skill and cunning and drops plenty of clues along the way. Going back through my notes I can see exactly how and why the Decapitator is who it turns out to be, yet I couldn’t put my finger on the actual suspect until I was pretty much led there, and that takes a lot of clever crafting in a novel.

Interestingly, reading some other reviews, I can see that not everyone appreciated the ending the same way I did. But, I think if you like whodunnits, enjoy mystery, suspense and puzzles; you’ll enjoy the complexity of the final few chapters.

What would I have liked to read more about?
I think it’s less about what and more about how. When Green has a chapter with a clear goal and conflict the writing is smooth, pacey and contains tension. However, there were too many scenes without these features, so that often I found myself wondering why they were there and thinking that the story itself was muddled and mundane. This created certain lulls in my reading, and at one point I even almost gave up: I’m so glad I didn’t, thanks to the brilliant ending, but it’s a shame that this wasn’t balanced out a bit more.

What can I learn from this author?
Complexity of plot and clue-dropping, for sure. The possibility was always there for the reader to work out who the Decapitator is and, once I knew, I felt ashamed that I didn’t see it before but equally as respectful for Green’s ability to make me doubt so many of the key players. I think this was, in part, down to the strong narrative voice of Lane and how easily her thought process and questions were translated across to the reader. There were a few red-herrings, all of which I felt were suitably explained away, and the tension in the final few chapters was well-handled.

Alongside this, I think I will also take away the importance of having clear goals and conflict for every scene in my novel because, out of everything, I think that this was the only real element that let the novel down in my reading of it.

Would I recommend it?
This is a tough one, because there are some great things about this novel that I really enjoyed and really feel would benefit other writers – not just readers – and yet some elements of the story didn’t seem quite as polished as I would have expected.

I think, though, if you like YA Thrillers, are intrigued by the concept and can allow the author some leeway in order to lead you up to that final thrill, then go for it.
If you’re picky, critical and don’t like to see coincidences happen to drive the plot, possibly not the book for you.

Killer Instinct is available from both Amazon UK and Amazon US

About the author
Shannon Greenland, or S. E. Green, is the award winning author of the teen thriller, Killer Instinct, a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers; the teen spy series, The Specialists, an ALA Popular Paperback and a National Reader’s Choice recipient; and the YA romance, The Summer My Life Began, winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award. Her books have been translated into several languages and are currently on numerous state reading lists.

Shannon is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America. She has participated in and served as a guest speaker at festivals and conferences around the country to include but not limited to the LA Times Book Festival, American Library Association, Book Expo of America, Bouchercon, Romance Writers of America, RT Book Convention, Young Adult Keller Book Festival, Southern Festival of Books, and many more.

Shannon grew up in Tennessee where she dreaded all things reading and writing. She didn’t even read her first book for enjoyment until she was twenty-five. After that she was hooked! When she’s not writing, she works as an adjunct math professor and lives on the coast in Florida with her very grouchy dog.

Find her on-line: www.shannongreenland.com
Twitter: @segreenauthor

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