Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review of "Red 1-2-3" by John Katzenbach

The story's villain, who calls himself 'The Big Bad Wolf' (BBW), is a childless married man in his sixties who had mild success as a mystery novelist years ago. Now, feeling unappreciated and forgotten, the BBW plans to write a book that - he thinks - will make him wildly famous.

The BBW is a narcissistic psychopath who's been inspired by the tale of 'Little Red Hiding Hood' - where Red gets eaten by the wolf. Thus, the BBW's big idea is to murder three redheaded women, all on the same day, and then write a book about it. The BBW thinks everyone will be fascinated by the details of his crimes - how he planned and executed them - and that he'll become a legendary criminal. Moreover, the pompous writer is convinced he's too clever to be caught.

To carry out his grand plan the BBW chooses three flaming redheads, two of whom have a connection with his wife (referred to as Mrs. BBW). The proposed victims are:

Redhead 1. Karen Jayson - a fortyish single doctor and amateur stand-up comedian. (Mrs. BBW is her patient.)

Redhead 2. Sarah Locksley - a hard-drinking school teacher who's deeply depressed by the recent death of her husband and child. (Mrs. BBW doesn't seem to know her.)

Redhead 3 . Jordan Ellis - a high school student on the basketball team, who - reeling from her parents' divorce - is struggling in her classes. (Mrs. BBW works in the principal's office at Jordan's boarding school.)

As the book opens the BBW sends a letter to each of the women, announcing that he plans to kill her. From this point on the women's behavior is completely unbelievable. Karen (at least) talks to the cops on the phone, but lets them blow her off. She doesn't bother taking the letter to the police station and doesn't mention the threatening missive to anyone else. Sarah and Jordan don't tell a single other person about the frightening letter....not even a friend or relative.....much less the cops. Plain and simple, this would NOT HAPPEN in real life.

The BBW, who's been stalking and photographing the redheads, continues his nefarious behavior. Because he's unknown to the victims the killer is able to escort Mrs. BBW to her doctor appointments with Karen, and to accompany his wife to Jordan's high school basketball games. The BBW persists in frightening the redheads with phone calls and internet videos and - soon enough - the ladies learn about each other. They make arrangements to meet up in secret and discuss ways to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, Mrs. BBW remains blithely ignorant of what's going on. The BBW - claiming he needs 'a private space' for his writing - locks the home office where he keeps his stalker pictures and incriminating manuscripts. Then one day the BBW leaves his keys behind and....(I won't give away spoilers).

The book's third person POV alternates between the BBW and the other characters. The BBW is a supreme egotist who endlessly talks about how clever he is, the thrill he gets from 'torturing' the redheads, and all his 'delicious' plans. (I HATE that term unless it's referring to food). Mrs. BBW comes across as a naive middle-aged (almost) spinster who's thankful she finally snagged a husband - and a 'famous writer' at that!

The three redheads turn out to be rather clever and resourceful. They get gutsy and hatch a plan - however they don't get all their ducks in a row. The ladies set out to kill the man they think is the BBW.....with no proof he's the right guy! This doesn't seem like the smartest idea in the world.

I don't want to give away too much so let's just say the book's finale strains credulity (A LOT). The ending left me feeling cheated and unsatisfied. I know John Katzenbach is skilled writer but this book isn't among his best. It's amateurish, way too long, and poorly thought out. Not recommended.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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