Review: Buzz Killer by Tom Straw

Buzz Killer by Tom Straw is the first in a prospective new series featuring NYC Public Defender Macie Wild and Gunnar Cody, an ex-detective dismissed from the NYPD’s elite surveillance unit.

Tom Straw made his fiction debut with 2007’s standalone mystery, The Trigger Episode, and then appeared to have dropped off the literary landscape. It’s only recently become common knowledge that he subsequently wrote seven books under the pseudonym Richard Castle (tie-ins with the popular primetime crime dramedy, Castle), all of which were New York Times bestsellers. Now, Straw—also a veteran writer and producer for television—reasserts his own identity with Buzz Killer, the first title in a prospective new series.

As the story opens, readers are introduced to ambitious New York City Public Defender Macie Wild, who remains loyal to the call of duty despite more profitable prospects. Here, we find her reacquainted with repeat client Jackson Hall—who the tabloids have dubbed the “Buzz Killer” in reference to a previous string of breaking-and-entering incidents in which he would ring random apartments and then hit the vacant ones. This time, Jackson is up on a murder charge for allegedly having offed his partner in crime, Rúben Pinto. Though willing to cop to some B&E offenses, he is adamant about his innocence in the hit—and Macie believes him.

She and her team—including paralegal Tiger Foley, social worker Soledad Esteves Torres, investigator Jonathan Monheit, and summer intern Chip Ross—quickly begin their own investigation into the case, given the authorities’ lack of desire to look beyond their client. But before they can make serious headway, Hall becomes the victim of a jailhouse assault; though he survives, he is left in a coma—and thereby unable to assist in mounting a defense.

Undeterred, Macie takes to the streets to pursue the few leads she has and herself becomes the target of a brazen kidnapping attempt (additional proof, in her mind, of a conspiracy to frame her client). Fortunately, a new acquaintance, Gunnar Cody, is there to thwart the attack.

Cody, an ex-detective who was dismissed from the NYPD’s elite surveillance team (TARU) under mysterious circumstances, is currently working as a freelance video journalist. While he and Macie have some very obvious philosophical differences in terms of their methodologies, the two become unlikely allies in their desire to discover the truth.

A flirtation inevitably ensues, further complicating their heated dynamic. After all, Macie—whose own brother was killed, creating irreparable fissures in the family—sees the pursuit of justice in terms black and white, but Cody is all about operating in the gray areas. The ensuing struggle between head and heart forces her to confront just how far she’ll go to defend her client.

Beyond the depth of character development that such a coupling enables, Straw excels at bringing his Big Apple canvas to life, capturing the sights, smells, and sounds—indeed, the very streets—in a manner that is both palpable and poetic. So, too, the nuances of his sundry cast of secondary characters, who are entirely memorable, regardless of whether they monopolize the page or appear but momentarily; these people range from petty criminals to powerful Russian billionaires and all ilk in between. Somehow, everyone and everything comes together surprisingly, and satisfactorily, in what can only be described as a masterful mosaic.

Though Buzz Killer boldly proclaims that it’s written “IN THE TRADITION OF RICHARD CASTLE,” Tom Straw is a genuine genre heavyweight in his own right. (Perhaps the Castle books should boast a preface that they’re written in Straw’s inimitable style.) In addition to reclaiming his place among contemporaries, the author presents two of the more memorable protagonists in recent memory—and a frenetically vivid backdrop for them to make their own. The result is a story that jumps off the page and in your face, but you’ll be too enthralled to blink.

See also: Q&A with Tom Straw, Author of Buzz Killer


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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.


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