Aging baby-boomer Russell Walker wants only to retreat from the world and the shattering death of his beloved wife, into the woods of British Columbia. But the real world won't let him become a hermit. Instead, he finds himself thrust into the mystery of a series of mass murders by a monstrous sadist and serial killer who makes Hannibal Lector look like a boy scout. And he is caught in a frightening predicament: He is the only possible intermediary between a telepath called Smelly, so sensitive he can't stand to be near most people, and a skeptical police officer who needs to hear and believe what Smelly knows about the fiend. This involuntary trio may be the only ones who can catch the inhuman butcher before he kills again-if he doesn't catch them first.
Review by Scott Werbin
The Weekender, February 16, 2005
Would you believe *one* improbable thing for the sake for enjoying a good story? In the past few years in the name of good fiction you've been asked to accept quite a number of unlikely premises. (And I'm not even talking about the more esoteric genres- I'm talking about mainstream fiction.) If so, let me tempt you with a book I mentioned briefly at the end of my last review; Spider Robinson's "Very Bad Deaths".
I'll sweeten the deal- would you believe it for the sake of reading a *great* story? One that will have you laughing when you're not thinking.. and thinking when you're not laughing? What? You greedy readers want more information? Hmmm.. Ok, I'll throw in a filthy-rich brilliantly amoral serial killer, one that Hannibal Lechter would refuse to accept as a next-cell neighbor. And opposing this mastermind? An unlikely trio: an ageing ex-hippie, a young and dis-favored cop, and a hermit known for his "kill you at 30 yards away" odor. (Ok- here is the one small thought-provoking plot-twist ... The hermit can read minds...)
Newspaper columnist Russell Walker (who shares a large part of his fictional biography with his creator, Spider) is surprised one late night by the re-appearance of his old college roommate- (nicknamed "Smelly" -for more-than-obvious reasons). Smelly has been presumed dead for years... but in flashbacks we learn that Smelly's fragrance, his faked death and his decade's long hermitage are due to his telepathy- he finds people too painful to be around- he *needs* his privacy.
Smelly has inadvertently (and thankfully only briefly) encountered an unnamed evil genius - long enough to glimpse his plans but *not* long enough to learn his identity. And Russell is the only person Smelly can trust or even approach close enough to even discuss the problem. It will be Russell's challenge to find a law officer (or anyone!) to believe this impossible tale. What can you do, if you *know* that the evil genius is planning to torture and murder his next victim(s)- before it happens? If you don't know his name, the names of his victims, or even the time and location of the crime?
Spider deftly weaves past and present, as well as possible and improbable into a entertaining tale- enough suspense to grip the mystery reader, yet more than enough of a twist to keep the attention of those looking for something more out of the ordinary. This one is just far enough off Spider's normal route to give him (and all of us) an unexpected and enjoyable challenge!