When I started to read Katherine Ewell’s “Dear Killer” (Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper/Collins, 368 pages, $17.99) I was conducting an internal debate on whether or not to review it.
After all, the book is aimed at young readers and was written when Ewell was only seventeen (she’s nineteen now). According to the handout from the publisher “She was one of fifty finalists out of 5,000 entries in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest and has attended the invitational Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. In addition, she has the distinction of being named a California Arts Scholar and has been awarded the California Governor’s Medallion for artistically talented youth. Dear Killer is her first novel.”
I was worried that impressionable young readers would use “Dear Killer” as a model for their own killings. I decided that this was a stretch, that most readers never carry their fantasies into fruition. At least I hope so!
Kit Ward attends a posh prep school in London. She lives with her beautiful mom (or “mum” as they say across the pond) and her clueless as to what his wife and daughter do in their spare time dad. Kit has taken after her mom as a contract killer, with a mail drop box in a restaurant bathroom where people who want to do away with someone leave her letters that start out: “Dear Killer.”
Kit doesn’t know it at the time — although she’s amazed at her mom’s audacity — but her killing life begins to unravel when her mom invites a young Scotland Yard homicide detective over for tea, introducing Alex to Kit. The teen wonders what’s gotten into her mom, who’s always warned her daughter — London’s “Perfect Killer” — to be careful. So what’s up with her mom, inviting the person who’s in charge of solving the “Perfect Killer” murders into her house?
As is the case with other thrillers I review, I promise not to give away too much of the plot of “Dear Killer.” It’s amazingly well written, especially for a book by such a young writer, and deserves to be a bestseller. I can see a movie in this book, maybe a Lifetime or IFC production, perhaps a mini-series.
Kit Ward’s moral nihilism—the fact that she doesn’t believe in right and wrong—makes being a serial killer a whole lot easier . . . until she breaks her own rules by befriending someone she’s supposed to murder as well as the detective in charge of the Perfect Killer case.
Kit has five rules:
Rule One: Nothing is right, nothing is wrong.
Rule Two: Be careful.
Rule Three: Fight using your legs whenever possible, because they’re the strongest part of your body.
Rule Four: Hit to kill. The first blow should be the last, if at all possible.
Rule Five: The letters are the law.
It appears that her very own mom — the woman who taught her everything she knows about killing — is violating Rule Two: Be Careful, but maybe she’s operating by the devious principle of keeping your friends close and your (potential) enemies closer.
I don’t think many young readers are fans of the Showtime series “Dexter”, now history, but if they are, they’ll be intrigued with Kit, her mom and dad, Alex and her friends at school. Fans of Dan Wells’s I Am Not a Serial Killer and Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why will find “Dear Killer” an ideal psychological thriller. But, as they say in commercials showing risky actions, do not attempt this yourself!