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Seven Ways to Die Paperback – March 8, 2012
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About the Author
The late William Diehl is the author of numerous fast-paced New York Times bestsellers, including two, Primal Fear and Sharky’s Machine that were made into major motion pictures. Prior to his death in 2006, Diehl had written over 400 pages of manuscript for Seven Ways to Die, and left behind a working outline, notes and chapter drafts. Ken Atchity worked personally with Bill’s widow, Virginia Gunn Diehl, along with his screenwriting partner Michael A. Simpson, to bring this novel to completion. William Diehl was an extraordinarily gifted storyteller who enjoyed an unbroken string of bestselling novels including 27 aka The Hunt, Thai Horse, Hooligans, Chameleon, Show of Evil, Primal Fear (Richard Gere and Edward Norton) and Sharkey's Machine. Seven Ways to Die is more than a worthy final addition to the Diehl canon. For twenty years he lived on Georgia's St. Simons Island with his wife Virginia Gunn, a former Atlanta TV reporter. Diehl, who began writing novels at the age of 50, was strongly influenced by his experiences as a ball turret gunner on a B-24 in World War II--for which he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal.He met Martin Luther King and took part in the Civil Right movement. He became a staff reporter at The Atlanta Constitution, then the first managing editor of Atlanta magazine. Kenneth Atchity, author of fifteen previous books, is a prolific producer of motion pictures for television and theater, as well as former professor of comparative literature and Fulbright professor of American studies. Atchity, author of fifteen books, has been an editor and manager of bestselling authors for twenty-five years, and responsible for twenty bestselling novels.
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In some respects, "Seven Ways" is a throwback to Diehl's first novel, "Sharkey's Machine," with the benefit of thirty years of improved police technology. In "Machine," a lone Atlanta cop assembled an ad hoc "machine" of fellow cops to solve one complicated case; in "Seven Ways," the New York Police Department has formed an elite unit that solves the spectacular cases the regular cops can't. The unit has a number of forensic, legal, and investigative specialists and is led by a brilliant detective, Micah Cody, the youngest captain ever in the NYPD. Their current case is spectacular. A prominent investment banker has been found murdered in his apartment, bound, naked, and with his body drained of blood. Further, the killer seems familiar with police procedure and is playing games with the evidence to disguise some of the forensic details of the killings.
Cody thinks they've got a serial killer on their hands and he is soon proven correct, as other bodies start turning up, posed in a similar fashion to the first victim. However, the various victims aren't the same physical types and seem to have nothing in common with each other, and, further, the causes of death are quite dissimilar as well. The only thing they have in common is that the victims have a relationship with various members of Cody's unit, making him conclude that the killer is deliberately challenging his unit.
As in all of his novels, Diehl seems to have done considerable research into the technical aspects of the book, and the police procedure seems cutting edge and accurate. The case and the investigation move along quickly and maintain reader interest throughout. The book has a couple of highly kinky sex scenes as well to maintain interest, and one of the settings is a bizarre underground sex club of which the first victim was a member. The identity of the killer isn't too tough to guess, but Diehl shifts effortlessly from a traditional mystery to a cat-and-mouse suspense novel, with the killer going after Cody personally with the intent of making the detective the final victim. The finale is an extended chase involving guns and bows and arrows through Central Park at night.
Although "Seven Ways" bears many of Diehl's writing trademarks, it's not quite as good as his best work. This may be due to having a second, probably less talented, writer (and one who hadn't previously written any mystery or suspense novels) finish the book. Despite what the book's blurb says, it's impossible to know the shape in which Diehl left the book at the time of his death, so Archity may have had to do some guesswork and finalize the plot and character details on his own. In any event, some of the writing isn't as smooth as it could be, especially a prologue in which Cody, a Native American, learns some survival lessons out west as a child. Later, the entire idea of an elite unit (which would have to cost the New York taxpayers a bundle) doing pretty much what it pleases seems a bit farfetched. Further, the story doesn't integrate the killer's storyline with the ongoing investigation very well. One gets the feeling Diehl might have told more of the story from the killer's point of view, with the master scheme unfolding at the same time the police investigate.
Although "Seven Ways to Die" isn't Diehl's best work, it's still a solid procedural with a bizarre, fascinating series of killings playing out. Diehl's hero, Cody, may be a bit farfetched to be a believable detective, but he's fun to follow, and his relationship with his old dog and new girlfriend are entertaining. "Seven Ways" isn't perfect, but its flaws are understandable considering the circumstances under which it was written. Regardless of how much, or little, of the finished novel Diehl was actually responsible for, "Seven Ways to Die" is a good suspense novel and a fitting tribute to a gifted writer.
But there's more here than merely the pursuit of what appears to be, at the outset, an intelligent, remorseless psychopath. Cody relies heavily on his Native American past in the course of his hunting. Charley, his dog, is a memorable canine who will play a unique role in the story, up to and including its final pages.
As one might expect in a story with serial killing at its core, there are bound to be grisly happenings, in this instance enhanced executions by the perpetrator, revealed mostly second hand on the autopsy table. And, also not unexpectedly, sex plays a role in the drama, with one pressure cooker scene that becomes an important element in the story.
Add to that a bit of woo-woo traced back to Cody's boyhood, a charming love story, and a plot where many readers will spot the perpetrator early on. That last feature, and the fact that the killer combines unbelievable luck with an uncanny ability to deceive, does no real damage to the story line. This is truly a police procedural at its best.