The Killer Who Hated Soup by Bill A. Brier is the first book in the new Killer Who Hated series, featuring amateur photographer/sleuth Bucky Ontario and his adventures in the fictional town of Defiance, OK (available October 21, 2017).
Bill A. Brier has a list of credentials that lend themselves to storytelling: he grew up in California, attended Hollywood High School, and worked in the movie business for more than 25 years in roles that included cameraman, film editor, and general manager. He also served in the U.S. Air Force as a combat cameraman and earned a master’s degree in psychology. Eight years ago, Brier switched from reading scripts to writing mysteries; his first, The Devil Orders Takeout, was published last April. Now, he’s back with The Killer Who Hated Soup—the inaugural title in a projected new series set in the fictional town of Defiance, Oklahoma, in the 1950s.
As the story opens, readers are introduced to 21-year-old dynamo Bucky Ontario, an amateur photographer with an impressive front hair curl who left his Louisiana home two years ago in pursuit of greater ambitions. Following the close-your-eyes-and-point method of decision making, he boarded a bus to Defiance, OK—one of Time magazine’s picks as the next great boomtown—and hasn’t looked back. After all, Defiance—much like Bucky himself—is laden with potential, and the potential for prosperity, while maintaining a down-home charm:
The cold air stung his face like porcupine pricks, and it felt electrical. He loved the outdoors, and he loved Defiance. It was his kind of town—a town primed for growth. A town where folks were friendly and waved to one another. Where they drove fast in town to show off their cars or pickups and slow on the highway to save gas. Where a cashier would start a detailed conversation about anything from paving sidewalks to building racetracks when someone only wanted to buy gas and enjoy a Nehi pop.
Under the tutelage of Dale Carnegie’s seminal book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Bucky has set his sights on becoming town mayor. But first, he must ascend the social ladder. Consequently, Bucky has left his job at the local grocery store to sell cars for Cal Alsop’s Chrysler dealership. Beyond being the boss, Alsop is also chairman of the town council.
It’s following a party at Alsop’s home that two of the guests—Will Chambers and his sister, Miss Iris (Bucky’s friend/neighbor)—die in a tragic car “accident.” Unsatisfied with that conclusion, Bucky does a little sleuthing of his own and helps the police, led by Chief Parker, uncover the truth: that the vehicle’s brake line was cut—and that there’s a cold-blooded killer on the loose.
Given that Chambers had a plum job at the dealership, suspicion falls on a co-worker named Kansas; not only has he been gunning for said position but his reputation as a hothead precedes him (as do rumors of an illicit relationship with his own daughter, Marybeth—gossip that’s propagated by the town’s Deputy Chief Harman).
Meanwhile, Bucky is drawn into a second mystery when he agrees to help his friend Kindra reclaim a ring that belonged to her deceased mother. Kindra lent the piece to Marybeth, who she insists was secretly pregnant at the time. Though no child has surfaced in the wake of that alleged pregnancy, Bucky has reason to suspect a coverup (literally). He and Kindra persist in their recovery mission and are eventually rewarded with this tantalizing nugget: Find the baby, find the ring.
Despite a murderer at large (among other felonious occurrences), the town is consumed with an imminent celebration of its 50th anniversary. Over the objections of fellow council member Maynard Johnston, the group, spearheaded by Alsop, decides to commemorate the occasion by creating a time capsule within a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere and burying the car for a future generation to unearth. But when preparations commence, the designated plot of land is discovered to be a potential Indian burial site, putting the whole ceremony in jeopardy—and pitting the resident tribesmen against those who took their land.
By virtue of his likability and those aforementioned camera skills—the police department is lacking a photographer, conveniently—Bucky finds himself an insider in the investigation. While this solidifies his relationship with Alsop and Chief Parker, it draws ire from Kansas and Harman, who impede his efforts at every step. Though perhaps a bit overeager in his tactics (and undereducated in the law), Bucky’s intentions are good if not always fruitful. Still, a growing body count, a shifting balance of power, and murky town politics demand a reckoning—and Bucky may just be the man for the job.
The narrative unfolds chronologically and is told in multiple (third person) perspectives. This allows readers a glimpse into the secondary characters’ personal motivations, political agendas, and the proclivities that often bridge the two; it also ensures that those characters are multi-dimensional, as opposed to mere reflections of Bucky’s observations and opinions. Not only does this make the reader complicit in their knowledge of certain things that elude Bucky but it also maintains a sense of urgency and imminent danger.
The Killer Who Hated Soup is a contagiously high-spirited and blissfully low-tech whodunit that introduces a likable new protagonist making his way in a town that, despite outward appearances to the contrary, lives up to its bold name. Bill A. Brier balances a cinematic eye with old-fashioned storytelling sensibilities; the result is a richly atmospheric and often humorous tale that never takes itself too seriously but keeps your full attention all the same.
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.