Scott Thornley’s The Good Killer

aOn page 121 is the keyword: “meta art”. This is what Scott Thornley’s novel The Good Killer is all about. And this is very disturbing news, because the clamor of theory rarely leads to a respectable conclusion. Most of the time it’s about giving that warm feeling of knowledge to the small circle of insiders who can’t stop nodding while reading. In the current case, this means: that the killer reproduces the artworks with his victims, photographs them, finds them pioneering, and displays the photographs on an exhibition in Paris. For example, he arranged two bodies in a palace based on the lithography of Honoré Daumier “Rue Transnonain, le 15 avril 1834”. The painting was rounded by dolls with red cotton oozing from her wounds.

The detective, Superintendent MacNeice, immediately feels that the perpetrator can only be arrested if the role model for this scene is identified as Class II. However, subsequent research has marginalized everything that could help the book set in: psychological depth, risky decision-making situations, and irony, the complex discussion of aesthetic questions. This is evident, for example, once the investigator says that the killer walks “a fine line between fantasy and reality.” Confused colleagues, blank faces. She explains that the viewer “automatically assumes the blood isn’t real, it’s tomato sauce or something. Most people would probably think these are not real bodies, but actors pretending to be dead.”

Scott Thornley:


Scott Thornley: “The Good Killer.” A crime novel.
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Photo: Suhrkamp Verlag

Appearance and reality, authenticity and stage, life and death, truth and lies are all not monotonous, but in the case of the fourth MacNeice they are conveyed to the reader in a manner almost like Danbrown. At least, amateur photographer Thornley does not touch on media theory, because a seminar will be opened on the basics of semiotics and categories such as “aura”, “symbol” and “index”. Instead, Dr. “Besides the gory aspects of his work, this work is conceptually well-studied. Basically, it is about theater,” said Ridot, curator of The Cliché Gallery of Contemporary Art. “The latter also applies to ‘The Good Killer,’ but not the former.

Thornley, who grew up in Canada and runs an educational and health consulting firm, sends his adept ornithologist, who talks not only to birds but also to his deceased wife, to see healers more often. However, the sessions do not have the function of stimulating action. Chekhov’s claim that there is nothing irrelevant in literature, and that no episode remains illogical, makes sense in crime novels in particular, but Thornley constantly undermines it. MacNeice isn’t about to break, and won’t panic or do anything outrageously stupid. Yes, he drinks a lot of grappa, yes, he has strange dreams, but his somewhat unstable state of mind is thanks to an author who believes he knows crime heroes must suffer from a somewhat unstable state of mind.

The epilogue (Sword, Courage, Carnage) amplifies and augments previous bestiality with action sequences that radically change the tone of the book. Well, one might say, someone wants to understand art as independent and shows that it knows no boundaries. Thrills, especially those that revolve around aesthetic issues, must account for the evils visible at any time just as with changes in the record. However, this contrasts with the well-behaved embellishments from art history and the educational regression touched upon over and over again. In the end, a policewoman quotes Shakespeare’s novel “Henry V” on the battlefield. Colleagues have been transferred. Someone says, “That was cool, I mean seriously – really cool. Who is that?” Of course, the question is not relevant, but it can happen in the midst of this moment. In fact, it should be: “What is that supposed to mean?”

Scott Thornley: “The Good Killer.” A crime novel. Translated from the English by Andrea O’Brien. Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin 2022. 399 pp. , br. , € 16.95.

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