A 70-year-old serial killer, who has stopped killing decades ago and is suffering from Alzheimer’s, fears for his daughter’s life because he is convinced that the man she is dating is also a serial killer. Acutely aware of the rapidly deteriorating state of his memory, he sets out to save her before it is too late. The other three stories included in the book are concerned with a man having an affair with a married woman who is being badly abused by her husband, a couple whose young son is kidnapped and who is being returned to them many years later, and a writer who travels to New York City to get over his writer’s block.
The first story in the book, Diary of a Murderer, not only has a very intriguing premise, but an intricate and original plot with many twists and turns, and is resolved in a fitting and surprising way. I really enjoyed reading it, and although I did not find it all that emotionally engaging, it was hard to put down. The protagonist’s struggle with the disease and the resulting unreliability of his memories are described with great care and an eye for detail, which makes the narrative so gripping. It is also fun to look for clues in all those small details, to avoid the red herrings, and to try and find out what’s really going on, and despite the subject matter, the story overall is not that bleak, but rather darkly humorous.
The next two stories, on the other hand, could not quite keep up in quality or entertainment value. Their plots are a little contrived and the characters not all that interesting. Basically, they are alright as far as short stories are concerned, but nothing special. The fourth story about the writer, however, is the real letdown. A writer meets a woman, who is absolutely gorgeous of course, and she becomes his muse, but also his downfall. It is stupid and juvenile, and it seems as if the writer wants to share a glimpse of his own self-indulgent fantasies. The problematic depiction of female characters is also not limited to this last story, but prevalent overall. The women in these stories are daughters, wives, mothers of sons, and objects of sexual desire, and they are not there to say or do anything of relevance.
Overall, I think it would have been better to just publish the novella Diary of a Murderer on its own, instead of putting it into a collection with three inferior short stories, because it does lessen the experience considerably. They also don’t really have a common theme or even mood; there are overarching themes like death, alienation, and mental illness, but on the whole, this does not a coherent or meaningful collection make.