Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Night Rituals by Gary Paulsen
Released: July 1989

I'm a sucker for vintage thriller and suspense novels such as this one. I've had Gary Paulsen's Night Rituals lying around for a few weeks, and decided to read it immediately to take part in the February monthly keyword challenge over at Bookmark to Blog. "Night" is one of February's keywords.

Its gruesome synopsis is what originally drew me to Night Rituals. The novel begins when a janitor at the Denver airport finds a severed boob in an abandoned carry-on bag. Ed "Push" Tincker - the homicide detective assigned to the case - soon learns that a serial killer is cutting up women and scattering their body parts across the western part of the United States. Push also learns that the murderer is trying to follow a crazy ritual that could be satanic, or just merely part of an ancient Indian or South American ritual.

I'll just come out and say it: for lack of a better word, the mystery portion of this novel sucks. It really just sucks. However, I enjoyed Night Rituals NOT because of the mystery, but because I really loved reading about Push's train wreck of a character.

Push is a 35-year-old divorced homicide detective who spends most of his nights in the seediest parts of Denver. He drives by his ex-wife's house a few times per week (even though she's not even part of the story), maintains an ongoing affair with a saucy flight stewardess, and even bangs the occasional hooker. All other nights he can be found at the local cop bar owned and operated by a former detective.

There are a handful of short 1- to 2-page chapters that detail some of the murder rituals from the serial killer's point of view, but most of the book is about Push and his hunt for the killer. Actually, it seems as if Night Rituals is more about Push's life than about the murderer's rituals, and Push's crime procedures.

The denouement of this novel is incredibly weak and unsatisfying, even given the gritty and dark mood that surrounds the story. In the end, my fondest memories of Night Rituals will be Push's descriptions of cruising along Colfax Avenue in Denver.

Gary Paulsen is incredibly prolific as an author. Night Rituals is just one of hundreds of books Paulsen has written. After looking at Paulsen's bibliography, I've garnered a lot of respect for this man, even though this particular novel probably isn't one of his best.

I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to acquire Night Rituals by any means, but if you happen to come across it at a thrift store or library sale, it might be worth your time if you enjoy reading vintage gritty and seedy detective novels.

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