I’ve actually reviewed Andrew Klavan’s novel The Scarred Man (written under the pseudonym Keith Peterson, and recently released as an e-book by Mysterious Press) before on this blog. But I want to direct your attention to these books, and I re-read it recently, so it can’t hurt to discuss it again.
Mike North, the hero and narrator, is a young news reporter in New York City, and a very good one (this was written back before the internet holed the newspapers at the waterline). He is assistant to a legendary newsman named McGill, who asks Mike to come along upstate with him to spend Christmas at his home, since he (Mike) has no family. Mike agrees, and while there he meets McGill’s daughter Susannah, and falls so deeply and suddenly in love that everyone in the room can read it on his face. Susanna returns his feelings and they get along very well (including a sexual encounter under the Christmas tree while everybody else is sleeping) until somebody suggests telling ghost stories. Mike, on an impulse, makes up a story off the top of his head—about a sinister man with a scarred face, who dogs another man’s steps.
Suddenly Susannah is screaming, “Stop it! What are you doing to me?” She flees to her room, and the next morning she’s gone back to school.
It takes a few weeks before Mike realizes he has to go up to Susannah’s college and talk to her.
And as he pulls into the entrance to her college, he sees the scarred man from his story in his headlights.
I think this is one of the best set-ups for a thriller I’ve ever read. What’s especially great is that The Scarred Man is not a supernatural story. Everything that happens has a rational explanation. And it’s up to Mike and Susannah to figure it out, because the mystery involves the upcoming execution of a man who may not deserve to die. And the Scarred Man is still out there, dogging their steps, carrying the answers to their personal mysteries – which they may or may not want to learn.
On my second reading, I didn’t think the balance of the book was quite as great as the set-up, but it would be very hard for any story to meet that standard. Klavan fans who know him best from his current books should be warned that this is the early, liberal Klavan. He doesn’t slander conservatives, but the cultural insularity of his background shows through, especially in the addition of a character whom we are supposed to believe is a Christian fundamentalist preacher, even though his speech is peppered with obscenities. This is a fundamentalist preacher as imagined by a New Yorker who’s never actually met one. Attitudes toward sex may also offend some readers.
But it’s a great story, and one that will stick with you. Highly recommended.