A Sam Acquillo Mystery by Chris Knopf
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.
Acknowledgment: Chris Knopf provided a copy of Head Wounds for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Permanent Press (Hardcover), May 2009
ISBN-13: 9781579621834; ISBN-10: 157962183X
Location(s) referenced in Head Wounds: The Hamptons, Long Island New York
— ♦ —
Head Wounds by Chris Knopf — A Sam Acquillo Mystery
Publisher: Permanent Press
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $28.00