book reviews

Book Review: The Killing Lessons

The Killing LessonsThe Killing Lessons

by Saul Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Vine gig

View all my reviews

Saul Black’s ‘The Killing Lessons‘ (St. Martin’s Press 2015) might be the typical story of a psychocrazy killer if it weren’t for Black’s mesmerizing insights into the mind of both the killer, the victim, the survivors, and those who attempt to bring some form of justice to the chaos. For three years, damaged San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart obsesses over stopping the horrific torture and murder spree that spans  the Western half of the country. As it threatens to destroy her sanity and her life, she begins to lose hope that she can unravel the murderers crimes, but if she can’t, she doubts her mind will survive.

The story is non-stop violence from the mental images Black draws of the bloody debauchery to the searing hunt for the madman whose childhood cauldron of broken lessons left no room for humanity–all tied together by non-stop inner monologue of not just the killer, but his hunters and victims. Read this one sentence, the rambling inner thoughts of a desperate captive awaiting her death, chock full of detail, emotion, reflection, and meaning:

“When she thought of her room at Oxford, the walls of books with spines cracked in testimony to dogged engagement, when she thought of how clearly she’d sensed the scale of the imaginative relationship–what the reading life demanded (which was, in the end, to keep finding room for everything human, no matter how ugly or beautiful or strange)–it was as if she’d turned her back on her child.”

The only break readers get from the mesmerizingly deadly story are the quirky personal habits of Hart. Consider these:

  • she wakes up to poetry instead of music
  • she tells herself–Not today. She can quit being a cop anytime she wants to. Just not today.

In all, a riveting drama that you won’t be able to forget. Highly recommended for anyone with a strong stomach.

More psycho-thrillers:

Dark Mind


Let Me Go

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

32 thoughts on “Book Review: The Killing Lessons

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      • “When fourteen-year-old Allen Foster is diagnosed with parasomnia, a sleep disorder evoking vivid nightmares, he begins journaling each haunting dream on the advice of his psychiatrist, keeping the notebook safely hidden in a floorboard — that is until a new family moves into the Maine house. When Rita, the daughter of the new owners, discovers the book and begins experiencing Allen’s old nightmares, she tracks him down in an effort to rid herself of the misery, only to find he has no memory of writing them…”


      • I must say, I don’t see a problem with this blurb. You create intrigue and conflict. It’s short and punchy, and there are no spoilers. To be picky: ‘begin’ is a word to be avoided. Rather than ‘begins journaling’, say ‘he journaled’ or ‘recorded’. You could also offer a quick transition alluding to that when the family moved, he forgot the journal.

        Overall, a great job!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Me too, though even in college I was not into psychological thrillers. Everything I read was for classes, not to say there weren’t some great books. Still, I am impacted by Dostoevsky’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”–‘we are never freer than when we have nothing left to lose’ (such as being in a Russian gulag).


    • Especially if you like being scared awake, not being able to go to sleep until the killer is captured, and every wondered what a truly amoral human animal was like–yeah, then I’d call it a procedural.


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