Iowa, 1988. An unidentified severed head is found rotting in a corn field. Confronted with this gruesome discovery, Gerry Stokes – an arrogant and obnoxious newspaper reporter – agrees to cover up the affair. But the truth can’t be concealed forever.
More than twenty years later, Stokes must finally atone for his errors as the past returns with a vengeance. Forced into an investigation to discover what happened all those years ago, he stumbles upon a sordid truth: the victim is one of many; people seemingly chosen at random across America by a serial killer at large for more than two decades; a killer with a unique and horrific modus operandi who’s flown under the radar. Still at large the killer seeks to achieve artistic perfection in his methods of execution. He is “The Perfectionist”.
While tracking the killer under the cloak of FBI suspicion, Stokes sets himself an ambitious target and potential path to fame: write a book that leads the police to the killer, a first in the history of publishing.
The stakes are high and the pressure is on. Stokes is in the race of his life to discover The Perfectionist’s identity and publish his bestseller, while forced to bend the notion of what is ethically right.
*I received a review copy from the author.
If you like crime fiction, then The Perfectionist by Simon Duke is for you.
The story spans more than twenty years, and it begins with a mysterious, horrific murder in a small town in Iowa in 1988. At the time, a young reporter named Gerry Stokes gets involved, and is told to help cover up the murder. Frustrated, he tells no one about the murder or the cover up, and ends up moving to Chicago, where he becomes a senior reporter at The Chicago Tribune.
Gerry is an astute man, though he does not have any close relationships in his life, and he has all but severed ties with his immediate family. However, in 2010 the gruesome murder from his hometown surfaces again, when the granddaughter of the dead man, Sarah Howard, finds Gerry and demands to know what happened.
This sends Gerry on what ends up being a three year obsession, as he uncovers a bigger, and more shocking story than just the one murder. He realizes he is dealing with a serial killer, one who is both smart and careful.
During these three years, Gerry undergoes a transformation, where he becomes more empathetic and even likeable. He travels, further hones his investigative journalism skills, and manages to make amends with his older brother. He stops being someone who spends his free time on booze and paying for sex, and thinking dirty thoughts about all the attractive women he encounters.
Along the way, he learns about, and studies, some very graphic, terrible murders. At times The Perfectionist comes across as a well-researched article, which fits in with Gerry Stoke’s job as a journalist. There are some grisly details not for the faint of heart, and Simon Duke does a good job of keeping you guessing about who the killer is, plus there’s a nice surprise twist at the end.
The book sometimes jumps around in years, which can be confusing, and it wasn’t always clear how they were related. Gerry also has some intriguing recurring dreams that didn’t seem to tie in to the rest of the story that strongly.
However, Gerry Stoke’s journey as a reporter was enjoyable to follow along—he is so resourceful and confident that he is able to connect a lot of dots that even law enforcement can’t connect. At times, his reasoning for keeping law enforcement out of the loop seems off base, though that can be chalked up to a character flaw. The way he does handle law enforcement once they are involved seems almost too easy, at least towards the end as they close in on their killer.
The action-packed, climactic scene at the end—which as the reader I came to expect will happen about halfway through the book—was satisfying, though it felt like it was over quickly.
Overall, The Perfectionist is a thrilling read. And it’s fun to watch Gerry Stokes grow as a person and have real human relationships. Don’t read it alone at night though—it can definitely make you jumpy.
Genre: Crime fiction