Set in New Orleans before, during and immediately after the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, Kings of Delusion takes an already dramatic situation and boosts it into overdrive by throwing a serial killer into the lawless, semi-submerged mix. It’s an solid set-up, one which uses the real-life recollections of a paramedic as the basis for the central protagonist. With that concrete foundation, Kings Of Delusion spirals into deep, dangerous waters by insinuating the worst about one of the team of first responders. When a girl is raped and her family brutally murdered, the chances are that it’s a policeman, fireman or paramedic responsible. So who can you trust, when the storm suddenly hits town and society breaks down?
Throughout the book, the reader never quite knows which of the suspects (or none) is responsible for these crimes and an earlier chain of similar murders. The author throws suspicion onto each in turn, pitching each revelation against the backdrop of power outages, rising water levels, floating bodies and increasing panic.
Easily the best scenes, the ones which resound the most and which convey real-world credibility, are those where the first responders do their stuff, managing medical conditions, getting their hands wet and their feet bloody. There are also a couple of moments of carefully choreographed menace; when a weary group of refugees and medics stumble along the raised roadway towards safety as daylight fades, effectively a herd of vulnerable people with few weapons, and in the shadows lurk human scavengers – armed, and scenting their opportunity…
However, Kings Of Delusion struggles in other areas. At times the writing is naïve, almost clumsy. You can see what the writer was reaching for, but it frequently doesn’t come off. Some passages need to be read several times to figure out what just happened. A couple of the suspects are thinly drawn; they were hard to distinguish (which is kinda important for the plot). And some of the important emotional back-story and relationship dialogue just clunked for me.
That’s a shame, because this is an ambitious and entertaining novel. Inside a crime-thriller the author also attempts to discuss myriad other topics; relationships between mature but damaged people; saying goodbye to a parent when it’s that person’s time; the debate over assisted suicide; the inevitable hidden truths of any lives (secret affairs, secret histories, secret predilections): all that on top of the social commentary about the racial divide in NOLA and how the authorities got everything so appallingly wrong when the hurricane hit.
That’s a lot to cram into a single novel, so we should applaud the effort even if it’s a little rough around the edges.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Kings of Delusion by EJ Findorff is available as an ebook or paperback