“White Knuckle” by Eric Red (Samhain, $14) is a harrowing reading experience that may leave you looking suspiciously at every big rig truck on the highway.
It’s a twisted, gut-wrenching, graphic, grisly, gritty, gripping tale – certainly not for those who are looking for a subtle, peaceful crime novel that’s likely to put you to sleep.
It focuses on FBI Special Agent Sharon Ormsby, a recent academy graduate, who’s been assigned to the Highway Serial Killer Initiative.
When body parts are identified in different, far-flung locations, various indicators point to a serial killer, a big rig driver travelling around the country.
Ormsby goes undercover as a truck driver in the FBI investigation, joining veteran big rig driver Rudy Dykstra on the road in pursuit of a killer who goes by the handle of White Knuckle.
She travels with Dykstra cross-country, (there’s even a stop in Marshall MI), as they try to gather information and discover the true identity of the murderer.
Meanwhile, the clever killer keeps on picking up and brazenly kidnapping women and girls, keeping them restrained in a special secret compartment that he’s built into his huge vehicle.
He’s been leaving body parts in assorted states for forty years; most authorities weren’t even aware of his gruesome deeds - many of the bodies have never been identified or even found.
White Knuckle has a nasty, dark past - he tortured animals as a child; he long ago progressed to viciously killing women and shows little sign of stopping. He makes multiple-murderer Ed Gein look like a mere beginner.
Ormsby, Dykstra and her supervisor are working diligently but they have few useful leads, rising safety concerns and time constraints.
Hollywood screenwriter and director Red increases the tension by offering intriguing emotional viewpoints, providing insights from victims, the crazed killer and Ormsby, who has her own hidden secrets.
Red has done his research - his terrifying novel is full of well-described locales and peppered with the blunt opinions of tired truckers.
The brutal, full-throttle conclusion is carefully crafted, making it almost impossible to put the book down.
There are likely to be comparisons to Richard Matheson’s classic, nerve-wracking trucking saga “Duel” or Robert Bloch’s “Psycho”; this may leave you sleepless and linger longer in your memory.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.
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This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on July 12, 2015.