MURDER BOY by Bryon Quertermous

Polis Books
March 31, 2015

murder boyYou can see the finish line. You can see the end result of your hard work and dedication to craft. It’s right over there. Just over that line. Look. See it? Yeah. It’s right in the hand of your professor. All he has to do, is sign that thesis form. Yeah. Sign that form, man. Sign it, and your dreams of becoming a professional writer are a reality.

But what would you do if the sonofabitch just WON’T SIGN IT? You can’t reason with him because he won’t talk to you about it. He’s just a snob who looks down on your being a crime writer. He doesn’t respect you or what you write. He thinks everyone should write literary fiction and to hell with that genre stuff. But, without that signed thesis, you can’t move to New York and live the Writer’s Life you’ve always dreamed of. And the Writer’s Life is all you’ve ever wanted. It’s become the singular focus of your entire life. It looms large in floating capital letters: THE WRITER’S LIFE.

This is the situation Dominick Prince finds himself in. Having had his life on collegiate cruise control for just about forever, he now has no idea what to do without that signed thesis. And so, using the infallible logic that desperation brings, he plots to kidnap professor Parker Farmington and…MAKE HIM SIGN IT.

And with this setup, Bryon Quertermous brings us his debut novel MURDER BOY. While on the surface, MURDER BOY appears deceptively simple and linear:

Step One: Find the professor.

Step Two: Get him to sign the thesis.

Step Three: Life will be wonderful.

But things are never simple and linear, no matter how carefully you outline them. Life isn’t one of Dominick’s crime stories, and things never go as well with real human beings as they do on the page. Finding himself allied with the mentally unstable Rickard on his journey to find the professor, Dominick is confronted with his own increasingly malleable sense of right and wrong. Here, Quertermous makes you take notice. Stream of consciousness narration is nothing new, but Quertermous gives Dominick an almost continual output of insightful, and often times laugh out loud funny, narration that stands apart from the pack.

When Dominick starts coming to grips with the reality that Rickard may in fact be a serial killer, he confronts Rickard with his assessment of Rickard’s mental state by putting everything into the context of one of his stories. At this point, MURDER BOY starts blurring the lines between traditional storytelling and story-within-a-story meta-fiction. But the fear induced rapid fire dialog is so funny, that you can enjoy the story as traditional crime thriller, or choose to look into the hinted-at story inside. Dominick’s road trip adventures start to read like some kind of fever dream. As he wanders from his native Detroit, to Windsor, and then finally to Toledo, it’s hard to know what’s really happening. This part isn’t solely due to the meta-aspects of the story, Dominick just gets knocked out a lot. Equal parts Holden Caulfield and Pee Wee Herman, Dominick really wants to be the traditional tough guy adventurer, but occasionally falls a little short.

Let me take a moment to say this: Many authors have put out a “crazy madcap meta adventure” story. The trick is, how do you make the reader care about your crazy? Grounding your hero and making the protagonist somehow relatable to the reader is paramount. Quertermous gives us flashes of background into Dominic’s history that show how he became the shell of a man he is now. How can one man narrow his prospects in such a way? It happens here, and it makes sense. Even the psychotic Rickard, who could have so easily been a cartoon character, has an amazing scene at the site of the old Tigers Stadium that not only adds the depth needed for believability, but proves to be one of my favorite parts of the book. This one scene both grounds the character as person and establishes the writer’s own love for his home town.

Clearly influenced by Duane Swierczynski and Victor Gischler, Bryon Quertermous makes his debut novel MURDER BOY stand apart and on its own. Word is, Quertermous is hard at work on the follow up, RIOT LOAD. Hold on, I’ve got a preorder to take care of.


Dan Malmon