Monday, June 23, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Head Wounds by Chris Knopf

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Head Wounds by Chris Knopf. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Head Wounds by Chris KnopfBuy from

Head Wounds by
A Sam Acquillo Mystery

Permanent Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-57962-165-1 (1579621651)
ISBN-13: 978-1-57962-165-0 (1579621650)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $28.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): Sam Acquillo can hide in his windswept waterfront cottage all he wants, but the demons of his past are going to find him. Worse, they've teamed up with some pretty nasty demons of the present, including a very determined Chief of Police whose top detective has Sam caught in the crosshairs.

Part-time carpenter, full-time drinker and co-conspirator with an existential mutt named Eddie Van Halen, Sam tries to lead the simple life. But as always, fate intervenes, this time in the form of Robbie Milhouser, local builder and blundering bully who shares at least one thing with Sam — an irresistible attraction to the beautiful Amanda Anselma.

Peel back the glitz and glory of the fabled Hamptons and you'll find a beautiful place filled with ugly secrets. This is Sam Acquillo's world. Moving effortlessly across the social divide with wry pal Jackie Swaitkowski and rich guy Burton Lewis, the ex-boxer, ex-corporate infighter seems doomed to straddle the thin red line between envy and love, hate and forgiveness, goodness and greed.

And sometimes life and death. Only this time, the life at stake is his own.

Review: Independent carpenter Sam Acquillo is accused of murdering a Long Island real estate developer with his own staple gun in Head Wounds, the third mystery in this series by Chris Knopf.

Ex-boxer Sam, who's had his head knocked around too often and is in danger of permanent damage with just one more fight, tries to avoid just that one evening after dinner with his neighbor and sometime girlfriend, Amanda. Robbie Millhouser had been hitting on Amanda earlier and Sam put him in his place, hardly without lifting a finger himself though not without some minor damage to Robbie. A couple nights later Robbie is found with considerably more damage, his head bashed in with a staple gun belonging to Sam. Worse for Sam, he was reportedly seen in the vicinity of where the victim was found. Means, motive, and opportunity are all the police need to arrest Sam for murder. Out on bail, Sam begins a quest to determine who else may have had the means, motive, and opportunity to kill Robbie, and to his regret, Amanda seems to have all three.

Head Wounds is an exceptional novel, in both character and setting, but most importantly in how the plot develops. There are only half dozen or so principal characters, but the author deftly links them in relationships that make the story sufficiently complicated without making it confusing. A surprising suspense element is introduced early: Sam was, in fact, out and about and in the vicinity of where Robbie, the murdered man, was found, but he vehemently denies it later. Is he, in fact, Robbie's killer and is trying to find an alternate reality for the police to believe? Or is he simply a victim himself, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Many of the chapters in Head Wounds end with marvelous examples of literary engineering, sentences that could in another context seem over the top but here simply add to the mystique of the story. Consider the following. From the first chapter, "I let it stand at that and finished my drink, then one or two more to be on the safe side before letting the encyclopedia of irresolvable quandaries that continually cycled through my consciousness shift into a dream state, thereby maintaining continuity of torment from wakefulness to sleep." And from late in the book, "For them it was a simple meal, for me a type of last supper. Or maybe just a welcome distraction, depending on how the next few days would turn out, which version of the truth would emerge from the tangle of potentials, the competing sets of assumptions, all paradigms - shifting and otherwise - up for grabs." Like a great wine, some of these passages are meant to be savored.

The plot is carried along in such a way that the denouement, while in retrospect is not surprising, surprises nonetheless. It's all exceedingly well done. Head Wounds is definitely one of the best mysteries of the year and is highly recommended.

Special thanks to Chris Knopf for providing an ARC of Head Wounds for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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