This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home
Seriously, today's book has a pretty bad cover. I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I think that in day and age, publishers should put some effort in covers. A book isn't just the story inside, it's a physical product, and that includes the cover, so I'd appreciate it if they wouldn't treat cover art as an afterthought.
Dear Boss-esque letters that show how utterly helpless they are. Private investigator Ron Gentry also becomes part of the hunting troupe and he in turn is asked to contact his mentor, Professor Niccolo Benedetti, the world's most renowned detective. Whimsical (and freeloading) as Benedetti may be, even he feels that there's absolutely evil at work in Sparta and puts his own name at stake to find the serial killer in William L. DeAndrea's The HOG Murders (1979).
Oh, how often I heard people praise DeAndrea's The HOG Murders! I don't have a special interest in serial killer stories to be honest, but still, Queen's Cat of Many Tails is quite good, so there was always the little note in the back of my head, to read The HOG Murders. Of course, too much expectations could work in its disadvantage, so I kept those in reasonable check, and I went in the book with no more knowledge than that 1) this book was about a serial killer and 2) it was supposed to be good. How did it turn out?
Well, it certainly didn't disappoint! This was my first DeAndrea and I want to read more now! The serial murders that form the core mystery are gruesome, terrifying and seem only to shock and awe the reader into accepting The HOG Murders is just a crazy serial killer story, but this is actually a well-clued, absolutely fair orthodox mystery novel. And a good one too. Pick up the hints and turn your head the right way and you can spot HOG in time (I didn't pick up on the hint, but my Gut Instinct and Meta-Knowledge did give me the right person. But that's cheating). The one little problem I have with the solution is that a lot of orthodox mystery stories that feature serial killers kinda revolve around the same concept and The HOG Murders is no different: if you have read other puzzle plot mysteries with serial killers, there's a good chance you have a rough idea what to look for. I guess it's the same for most tropes in the genre, but I haven't seen that much variation in the concept with the serial killer trope, though that may be perfectly be the fault of my skewed reading diet.
There's more to The HOG Murders than just the serial murders though and I in particular liked two parts of the story that I thought feel quite Queenian: first is speculations around what HOG actually means and the wordplay reminds of Queen's dying message stories with many, many possible solutions that what seems a simple word (the 'solution' is presented in a rather arbritrary way though). Second, there's a very strange crime scene around three-quarters in the story, with someone who froze to death. The strangeness of the scene and the way the hints to the solution were laid out (as well as the 'sort' of hints) are classic Queenian stuff and I really loved it.
Not a big fan of the detective Professor Niccolo Benedetti though, but that's more on a character level. The HOG Murders does suffer a bit from a few too many 'detective' figures in the story: I get why DeAndrea went for that and it allows him to keep the momentum by jumping to moments with story developments, but still, it's a bit crowded with a great detective, a private detective, a police inspector, a reporter and a criminal psychologist to follow. It would be bit different if they were rival detectives, but they actually work and quite often move together in little groups.
I have to admit though, I do prefer less open mysteries in general. There's just something more thrilling and enjoyable with murders commited in more intimate circles, rather than an 'everyone in this town can be a victim!' type of plot. Even with a fair play puzzle plot where you can detect the criminal in advance, I can't say that I'm a very big fan of these open mysteries. That said, I still think The HOG Murders is great, but I just don't read that much orthodox mysteries with serial killers.
Anyway, The HOG Murders is a great detective novel that combines the serial killer motif with a puzzle plot in a succesful manner. Recommended reading for everything and I'm definitely going to read of DeAndrea in the near future to see what more surprises he has in store.