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The Kill Clause    by Gregg Hurwitz order for
Kill Clause
by Gregg Hurwitz
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the first of two thrillers (so far) about U.S. Marshall (and ex-Army Ranger) Tim Rackley and his tough Deputy wife Andrea (Dray). It's a good thing she's strong as the story opens with a knock on the door that announces the murder of their seven-year-old daughter Ginny. She was snatched on the short walk home from school, and was dead when Dray lit her birthday candles.

Tim is still reeling with shock when he's called to the scene of his only child's murder and dismemberment, where Dray's colleagues offer him a throwaway gun, and to look the other way. They don't understand his refusal, but a statement by the killer, Kindell, that 'I wasn't supposed to kill her', leads Rackley to assume that he had accomplices, and he becomes obsessed with finding them. The tragedy pushes Tim and Dray apart, as they need to deal with it differently, the husband wanting to fill his time with work and the wife to talk about their daughter.

I found it unlikely that a U.S. Marshall would be let loose with a gun against bad guys so soon after such a tragedy, and the reaction of Rackley's boss Tannino to the child's death seemed shallow. However, back on the job and involved in a 'good shooting', Tim is nevertheless asked to officially take an 'anger-management course', to allay media perceptions of wrongdoing. He resigns. Dray says 'You think the law adds up to justice, but it doesn't. There are cracks and fissures, loopholes and spin.'

As the emotional gap between husband and wife widens, Kindell gets off on a technicality. Tim, at his most vulnerable, is approached to join 'the Commission', which includes five men and a woman - all of whom have lost someone close to violent crimes - as members. Their intent is to review 'capital cases in which defendants have got off due to technicalities' and deliver justice. To win Tim's expertise, they offer the carrot of information about Kindell that might lead to his accomplice(s).

Of course, you can see at least part of where this is going. At first, the group's actions stop vicious criminals involved in current crimes, but then it gets more complicated and the Commission's execution team, led by Tim, begins to unravel. As innocents die, Rackley must find a way to stop his ex-partners in crime and punishment. The execution scenes are clever, with a Mission Impossible flavor and a detailed understanding of technology, and the action is fast and violent.

Gregg Hurwitz raises (and answers) excellent questions on the law and vigilante action, while delivering a masterful thriller with a sympathetic, troubled hero and a shocking conclusion. Though The Kill Clause is an engrossing read, the second in the series, The Program, is even better. I hope this trend continues and look forward to more from Gregg Hurwitz.

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