West Heart Kill by Dann McDorman

Reviewed by Rod McLary

From the title of the front page through to the last word on the last page, this is a novel which bends the genre of crime novels in all directions without once losing its momentum or coherence.  Even the title itself – West Heart Kill – is a mystery.  What exactly does it mean; the word ‘kill’ has its common meaning of course which is apposite to the nature of the story.  But ‘kill’ also originates from a Dutch word dating back to the 1630s meaning a stream or a creek – and that too is apposite.

The story begins in a tried-and-true manner used by many crime writers especially by one of the best – Agatha Christie in And Then There Were None [for example].  A group of people is placed in a specific location where entry or egress is  impossible.  One of the group is killed – the killer can only be one of the remaining characters but which one, why and how?  In West Heart Kill, the setting is an exclusive country club where a Fourth of July celebration with fireworks, alcohol, and secrets and lies is being held.  Then there is a body.  Into the mix is placed – in this case – a private detective, Adam McAnnis, who is ostensibly present because he was invited by one of the younger members of the group with whom he had gone to college.  But of course, that is only a pretext and the question arises: who has engaged him and why?

The narrative begins as a straight-down-the-line murder mystery.  The author addresses the reader directly as in You sense they knew each other quite well, long ago [7] referring to the private investigator and his friend from college as they drive to West Heart.  Very soon though, the perspective of the narrative changes from second person to third person.  From time to time, there is exposition of the history and techniques of mystery writing, along with an explanation of the origin of the word ‘murder’ and frequent references to Agatha Christie.

The author breaks the fourth wall not only by addressing the reader directly but by anticipating the reader’s thoughts and reactions to the written word.  When there is a sudden scream, the author says to the reader you sense this is one of those plot leaps that writers use to punctuate and propel the narrative [28].  The reader may consider that s/he is being guided in his/her interpretation of key events; but it is more a demonstration that the author is in complete control of the narrative and how it unfolds.

The penultimate section of the novel is a two-scene play in which ‘Reader’ sets out for the benefit of the players – and the reader of the novel – what has transpired through the foregoing pages.  Ultimately though, it is the Confession which produces The moment, at last, when all the cards are turned over [269].

West Heart Kill is a crime/mystery story like no other.  It challenges the reader from beginning to end and the final denouement is almost impossible to guess.  Only in the last few sentences is the killer revealed.

Dann McDorman has crafted an original and imaginative mystery which is replete with sufficient twists and turns to satisfy even the most jaded crime aficionado .  And through all those twists and turns, he remains in full control of the narrative and there is never a moment where the reader loses place or engagement.   Highly recommended.

The author is an Emmy-nominated TV news producer and West Heart Kill is his first novel.

West Heart Kill


by Dann McDorman

Raven Books

ISBN 978 1 5266 6622 2

$32.99; 272pp




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