Thrill Kill is a brisk, no-nonsense police procedural thriller set amidst the hurley burley of Carnival season in New Orleans. Homicide cop Quentin ‘Q’ Archer sets out to bring to justice a serial killer whose calling card is a can of aerosol coolant – tradename ‘Chill’ – beside the bodies of his victims. Archer burns the midnight oil to solve the crime, but it is not the only thing on his mind. He is not a native of The Big Easy, but a displaced person from Detroit, where his police career became violently complex when his wife was mown down by a car, and Archer was forced to turn against his own family in a personal war against police corruption, drugs and racketeering.
Don Bruns gives us a vivid and totally unsentimental account of the brand known as NOLA – New Orleans, Louisiana. We see a Mardi Gras which is joyous, celebratory, but also perverse and venal in the extreme. Central to the story is Archer’s relationship with a young woman Solange Cordray. Cordray is described in the publicist’s gush as a “voodoo queen”, which does neither her nor the book justice. Cordray certainly makes a living out of selling charms, herbal remedies and artifacts associated with the supernatural, but she also has a gift which can prove unwelcome and a burden to her – she has second sight.
Archer is, initially, completely sceptical about what Solange Cordray senses and feels, but he is conflicted by his growing physical attraction to her. Meanwhile, the killings continue, and it slowly dawns on Archer that they are not the work of a single murderer, but the result of a looming turf war between rival gangs. As ever, drugs are the main commodity, and their transit from South America to the streets of New Orleans is as clear as day, but the police simply do not have the resources to tackle the flow.
Even more worrying is the trade in human beings. The tragic irony is that much of America’s prosperity, particularly in the Deep South, was historically based on such a trade, but the new merchandise does not consist of strapping men brought in to pick cotton, but young – sometimes terribly young – women who are swept up from poverty in places like Mexico and Ecuador with the promise that they will soon be earning enough money to send home to their struggling families. In reality, the jobs consist of – at best – stripping but, more usually, outright prostitution. The money they earn is taken from them, and not one nickel, not one dime goes anywhere but into the pockets of the pimps.
Don Bruns himself (right) is an interesting character. As well as the first book in the Quentin Archer series Casting Bones, he has written two other series, Caribbean and Stuff. He describes himself as “a musician, song writer, advertising guru, painter, cook, stand-up comic and novelist who has no idea what he wants to be when he grows up.” His music is mainstream country, but with a little twist of this and that to spice things up. You can hear samples of his music here and I was amused to see the wonderfully titled Get Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth I’m Kissin’ You Goodbye as part of his repertoire. I always thought it was a spoof title, rather like If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? and You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life, but I am clearly wrong!
With a help from the insights of Solange Cordray, and a good-hearted stripper, Archer sets up a sting to bring down the main characters in the turf war between the rival gangs, and in doing so rips away the drapes that have been concealing the fact that the whole dreadful enterprise of importing Colombian Marching Powder and young flesh is controlled by those who are right at the top of the political tree. Thrill Kill is published by Severn House and is available here.