I have been putting off reading The Tourist Killer for quite some time. To those of you for whom the name is familiar, no doubt you have already read FC Etier’s articles, stories, and reviews, and know how engaging a writer he is (not to mention an intriguing photographer, but that is a whole other topic). To those of you who do not know him yet, let proof of how engaging he is be in the fact that once I started reading, I could not put The Tourist Killer down, despite the fact that I was in the middle of a very hectic work week.
I have to admit that another reason why I put off reading this book is because I was a little skeptical about the topic. Another thriller centered on a sniper? Great.
But it very quickly became obvious that The Tourist Killer is not at all what I feared it would be. For one, it follows the story of a very unusual sniper: a female one. “The Shooter”, as Claudia Barry is known, has had an impressive career, but feels that the time is nigh to end it, as she is approaching the legal age for retirement – which is the second feature that makes Barry uncharacteristic. Additionally, she is introduced completing what she thought was going to be her last assignment, itself unconventional: stalking a female serial killer.
Before she can head away to a beach somewhere to paint another one of her famous sunsets, Claudia is asked to take on one last assignment. We are then introduced to a cast of characters, one of whom ends up being the assignment.
The main reason I liked the book is also a source of frustration as I wait for the sequel to come out. FC Etier delves into Barry’s personality and mindset, allowing us to witness how she deals with her inner conflicts and the defense mechanisms she developed to remain successful in a profession that has broken many.
Additionally, the major lines of the path that took her from your everyday American teenage girl to a female sniper are sketched out for us, whetting my appetite to find out more. Understanding Barry was the main thing that kept me reading.
The line between good and bad is blurred. She could have easily been portrayed as a demon or a fallen angel; however, FC Etier chooses to present her as an empowered woman who willingly and willfully chose this career path for very logical and well thought-out reasons.
Is she a hero, ridding society of unpunished riff raff, or is she an arrogant, know-it-all psychopath that uses logic to excuse the inexcusable? And this was one of two sources of frustration to me, that we begin having answers to our questions about Claudia in the form of more questions. Then again, it is a rather devious way for the author to make sure that I will pick up the sequel; the sooner, the better!
Complex character development was mostly done for Claudia, but also to a great extent for Thibault, a very rich man the type current media seems to thrive on demonizing. Thibault, who is one of the potential individuals Barry is assigned to kill, is made, by circumstances I will not delve into for fear of spoiling the book, to spend a lot of time with a man named Hixon. The latter is, more or less, an average American (financially, at least), and challenges the very, very rich and very, very powerful Thibault through a conversation thought-provoking in a post-Occupy Wall Street era.
The last thing I will mention about this is that I also really liked the layers of relationships and connections between the victim and the other members of the elitist organization he is a part of. These intricate connections between the characters is the third major reason that kept me reading. And this is all I will say on the matter, as I really would not want to ruin the fun.
As for the literary quality, the book flows pretty well. It is very well written, includes beautiful descriptions that give life to scenes such as a motorcycle ride through the breath-taking winding mountain roads that ends in a deadly shootout. I also love the fact that the book is both realistic yet avoids the trap becoming crass.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not to say that The Tourist Killer book is perfect. There are a couple of little things that broke the otherwise good flow. The main thing is to expect sometimes awkward scene changes, but a quick reread of the pages pretty much clears up misunderstandings. I also would have liked more development for a wider circle of characters, which would have made the conversation between Thibault and Hixon all the more interesting.
The Tourist Killer is a strong first novel by a promising author. I would comfortably recommend it to readers interested in complex plots that makes space for reflection at many levels. It is an easy read, flowing nicely despite the sometimes confusing moments.
No doubt FC Etier’s sequel, hinted at the ended of the book, will prove even more satisfying. And there is always potential for Claudia Barry will become another Kay Scarpetta, whose life we will continue following for a long time.
First published here on Blogcritics.