The Killing Circle By Andrew Pyper

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What are the repercussions of calling another story your own? Patrick Rush, journalist, single father, and failed novelist, joins a creative writing circle in an inspiring atmosphere of menace and fear. Throughout Toronto, a murderer strikes randomly, leaving bodies mutilated and dismembered, and taunting the police with cryptic notes.

The group reads each other their own dark, unsettling tales. Angela tells of child-stealer Sandman. Patrick, though, finds fantasy and reality blurring. Is the maniac at large the Sandman? What does Angela really know? And does the killer stalk his pursuer? Only when his son is snatched does Patrick journey toward the elusive figure. The Killing Circle

Ah, the life of the lowly author who realizes that his output is not one that reaches the subjective level of high art, but rather belongs quite snugly under that dreaded (and equally subjective) label of popular fiction. What a crushing blow to the psyche it must be to aspire to join the esteemed ranks of Bellow, Roth, and Findley, and instead find oneself lumped in with the likes of Grisham, Koontz, and Patterson.

Canadian author Andrew Pyper has been battling with this conundrum for quite some time now. A writer with a poet’s eye for atmosphere and an entertainer’s skill at building crackerjack entertainments, Pyper has found himself more often than not consigned to the shelves of popular fiction. But a) why should that be considered a bad thing, and b) who ever said an author couldn’t be both? It’s a hoary old chestnut (but true nonetheless) that Charles Dickens wrote his stories to entertain the masses, and his artistry was only truly understood and appreciated through the passage of time.

Take Pyper’s debut novel Lost Girls, a story initially marketed as a John Grishamesque legal thriller. Using the well-worn plot device of a lawyer, Pyper wove a story far more thrilling than anything Grisham ever produced, layering on the themes of death, loss, grief, and memory with an artist’s touch. Lost Girls was an ‘entertainment’ in the sense that it followed a linear plot, had exciting characters and plot twists, and was in every sense a ‘page-turner’. But it was ‘literary’ in its complexity of character, its crafting of mood, its evocation of dread. Lost Girls was to a John Grisham construction as a microbrewed lager is to a can of Busch Lite; the ingredients are more or less the same, but only one shows care, craft, and character. Only one, in other words, is really any good.

Pyper belongs to the rarified sphere of thriller authors who bring far more to the table than a performer’s understanding of how to draw an audience in. Like Walter Mosley and George Pelecanos, Pyper writes novels that exhilarate first and foremost, yet explore themes that would cripple lesser writers. No one of any sense would write that Mosley’s Easy Rawling novels were simply mysteries that, once solved, were to be tossed aside. They aren’t confections filled with empty calories. They stick with you; big juicy three-course meals.

But maybe I’m reading too much into it. Or maybe I’m overcome with gratitude that finally, someone has written a novel with a book reviewer as the main protagonist. Either way, The Killing Circle, Pyper’s fourth novel, is his best to date.

The hero is Patrick Rush, a former National Star book reviewer who has slowly descended the hierarchy of the newspaper to become what is surely the nadir of journalistic identity, the television reviewer. Stuck watching taped programs with titles such as Falling from Buildings! and Animals that Kill!, Patrick longs for what every book reviewer secretly wants; “I longed to be an embossed name on a spine, to belong to the knighthood of those selected to stand alongside their alphabetical neighbours on bookshop and library shelves. The great and nearly so, the famous and wrongly overlooked. The living and the dead.” Patrick suffers from a malady common to the frustrated author; “I could no longer open the Book Review of the Sunday Times without causing physical pain to myself. The publishers. The authors’ names. The titles. All belonging to books that weren’t mine.” No self-respecting book reviewer (or wanna-be author) will be able to resist Pyper’s accurate and caustically funny depictions of the deep-seated cravings for fame common to every person who has attempted to pen a story of their own.

The problem for Patrick is not the drive to write, but rather the fact that he has nothing to say − although if you consider that he is now writing his story (or is he?), you must then assume that something interesting must have happened. Patrick joins a writing circle to help jumpstart his writing, but instead of finding an avenue into his own stories, he finds himself entranced by the disturbed writings of Angela, a member who tells stories of a childhood tragedy and a “terrible man who does terrible things.” While Patrick worries that assuming that Angela’s tales were based on fact would reveal himself as “that most lowly drooler of the true-crime racks, the literal-minded rube who demands the promise of Based on a True Story! from his paperbacks and popcorn flicks,” there are eerie parallels in the story to certain news items making headlines.

It spoils nothing to reveal that the terrible man does show up and begin committing terrible things, as Pyper expertly turns the screws on the suspense, and takes a few unexpected turns along the way. The Killing Circle offers some sick and twisted fun, especially when Patrick realizes that he is living “[not] the life of one who writes or even writes about books, but a malingering lowbrow who wrongly thinks he deserves better. No wonder, when his life decides to assume the shape of literature, it isn’t a novel of ideas, but a chronicle of murder and suspicion… A bloody page-turner.”

An author becoming a part of his own personal horror story is not exactly a new literary theme − Stephen King (talk about a thriller writer with talent!) has created an entire cottage industry around the conceit − but Pyper layers his serial killer tale with a meta-layer on the importance of stories themselves to the individual. Are the stories we live important to others? When is a story truly our own? Are we even the main characters in our own lives? As Patrick muses, “Nobody lives their life as though they’ve only been cast in a grisly cameo.” Pyper takes full delight in keeping the reader guessing as to the true identity of the killer, so much so that Patrick himself cannot guarantee that he’s not making the whole thing up. He might not even be telling the story, if it’s his to tell at all.

Pyper does a splendid job of lampooning the literary types who dismiss popular fictions while at the same time straddling both worlds. The Killing Circle is a terrific thriller for those who want it simple, and an intricate exploration into personal myths and stories for those who demand a little more meat on their bones. Scary, original, and unsettling, The Killing Circle is a treat.
Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal Wow. This book took me a day to finish. Once I started it, I could not put it down. The main character of this story is a man who wishes that he could write a novel, so he joins a writing group. This group contains a variety of people whom all have their own stories and secrets. One woman in the group reads a story she has written about a stranger who does bad things, and he is called the sandman. As the story continues, it seems the Sandman is real; and begins to kill again.

This book really freaked me out. It wasn't a typical storyline that involved gory details and the obvious tell tales of the identity of the killer. This story went beyond that and had a way of building up the suspense; the killer lurked in the shadows or the main character thought he saw something, but did he really see anything at all? Then there was the idea that maybe the main character was a little crazy and nothing was really happening at all. There were misdirections, lies, twists, and at one point I just said out loud what the fck?

If you read this book though, I would suggest not reading it at night. Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal Feb. 28 update:

I have come to the conclusion (late, in this case), that one should begin a review by making a positive, or at least, a nuetral statement! And I would like to add that I actually rated this 4 1/2 stars. (The following is the intact version of my original review.)

I want to say at the outset, that I wasn’t sure whether or not I liked the ending of this book. At first, I was disappointed. Not with the-who-dun-it part -- which was a bit of a surprise -- but the after-we-find-out part. So I thought about it for a while, and I have come to the conclusion that the ending is not as ambiguous as I first believed; but to say anything more would spoil the story.

Told in two chunks, the book opens in July 2007 introducing the reader to single Dad, Patrick Rush, and his precocious eight-year-old son Sam. In the first nine pages, Andrew Pyper hooks his reader; then he takes the story back 4 ½ years in time.

Grieving for his wife, Rush slowly spirals down in his journalistic career from literary columnist to that of the lowly TV critic. Even at his height, though, he believed: None start out wanting to review books, but to write them. To propose otherwise would be like trying to convince someone that as a child you dreamed of weighing jockeys instead of riding racehorses.

When he comes across an ad for a writers’ workshop, he answers it: I want to write a book. The problem: he is the only one in the circle who doesn’t have a story to tell. But Angela clearly does, although it isn’t clear whether her story is based on reality or fiction.
Meanwhile, a serial killer is on the loose, close to home in Toronto, and the events seem uncannily close to Angela’s story. After the writing circle ends, the killings stop.

Then Angela is suddenly out of the picture, and Rush, who had secretly been recording her readings, goes on to steal Angela’s story. By 2007, he has achieved his dream, to write a best-seller – and obviously, someone isn’t happy about this, because Sam is kidnapped.

Throughout this well-crafted story, Pyper keeps us guessing at who might be real, who might be the killer, whether or not the protagonist is going crazy, and is therefore suspect – even Patrick wonders if it’s all in his grief-stricken mind. And when is a story truly one’s own? By putting the narrator into the line of suspicion, along with all the other members of the writing circle, Pyper adds another dimension of suspense, and brings us full circle to a well-plotted conclusion.

Told in four parts, the Killing Circle is a gripping, complex, literary thriller.

Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal I got this book because I've really enjoyed several of Pyper's other books, but couldn't remember at all what it was supposed to be about, and decided not to spoil it by reading the synopsis on the back cover and dove right in unknowing. And I'm glad I did. It starts off with an emotional bang, and sudden mystery, and it's not long before it's implied what the truth behind that shocker will turn out to be. From the get-go, there's a pall just seeping off the pages of the story, an immediate gloom that sets the tone and continues throughout. This book packs an incredible emotional punch, right through the tension and sense of doom that permeates throughout. Anyone who claims there can't be a literary psychological thriller that delves into horror, this book proves there most certainly can. Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal
I enjoyed parts of this book very much. Andrew Pyper is a talented storyteller and I will continue to seek him out. He gets character development, understands the integrity of back story, knows how to draw out suspense and when to twist the knife in. All of these elements are on spectacular display in his latest novel The Guardians, but I did find them to be a little lacking here.

This is a good novel, and if you desire an original take on a whodunit mystery with some horror elements thrown in for good measure, there’s a chance it will read as a great novel. I’m not a mystery lover so much of what Pyper achieves here stylistically was lost on me. The long drawn out approach to the missing and murdered, the red herrings, and the process of making just about everyone equally suspicious started to lose its charm for me about three-quarters of the way through.

I will say that this is an expertly plotted piece that hits no wrong notes. It is a unique premise blending several genres together in an interesting way. I love Pyper’s insights into the psyche of aspiring novelists. The sequences describing the writing circle itself cast a spell on me that reminded me both of Ghost Story and Stephen King’s novella The Breathing Method.

I did appreciate the ending

All of this to say it’s my fault that this book didn’t get a higher rating, not Pyper’s. Recommended.
Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal


Thriller intriso dalla giusta dose di terrore Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal I loved The Guardians. I am surprised at the average rating of that book here, and I gave it a well deserved 5 star rating. It hit all the right buttons for me.

I wish I could say the same thing for The Killing Circle.

While I thought the entire concept of the novel was excellent, I found the pacing was rather uneven. I'm not sure why I found that, perhaps there were a little too many introspective insights by the main character. I just found the story's momentum seemed to suffer for it.

Regardless, Pyper is a fine writer, and you're best to check out The Guardians for evidence of that, particularly if you enjoy Stephen King's nostalgic stories.

I'll definitely read more of him. Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal ** Edited as review is now live on my blog! **

People used to live in every empty house you’ve ever stood in, and this makes them no less empty.”

You can all call me a friggin’ fool. Permission granted.

At a point not too long ago, I only had ‘The Guardians’ and ‘The Killing Circle’ left to read by Andrew and I kept putting them off. Why? Because I was worried about possibly not liking them. I KNOW!

Know having finished them both, I deserve a smack to the head, as those two may very well be the two best books Pyper has written.

‘The Killing Circle’ is one of the most claustrophobic, terrifying and down-right exhaustive books I’ve ever read. As in, you’ll hold your breath the entire time reading it, you’ll flip each page desperately wanting to know what’s going to happen but scared to death about what just may arrive.

‘The Killing Circle’ was an emotional roller-coaster for me, both with the words written on the pages, but also because this represents the final frontier. The last unread book by my favorite author. And while this review is being featured on the second to last day of my PYPER-MAY-NIA, May long celebration of my love for Andrew’s works, if you’ve read his interview that I featured on May 1st, you’ll know that we most likely won’t be seeing anything new from Andrew until probably 2022. I’ll pause so we can all go dab our eyes.

What I liked: Pyper writes like only he can. Every single sentence is lush, glorious and serves a purpose. In ‘The Killing Circle’ we are introduced to Patrick Rush, dad to Sam, widower to Tamara, who is fatigued with his job and decides to try his hand at writing a book. He joins a writing circle, looking for a creative spark, and while there, inadvertently ends up a creek with no paddles.

What Pyper does from here is sheer madness. We get to live and breathe what Rush goes through, what he sees and experiences and as I mentioned in the intro – it’s horrifically stunning. The essence though, for me at least, was the life that Pyper infused into a character that at first you take for granted; the setting. The city. Toronto. Andrew lives where this is set and wow, does he make it a sparkling, gnarly aspect to every single thing that happens, every single minute detail described with minimal details but maximal effect. In all of Andrew’s releases, the setting plays a vital role, to the point where Iconsider him to be the best out there for this. Nothing is pushed aside or skimmed over, Pyper makes sure to gives us the smells, the feels, the experience.

‘A father and son used to live here.’

The book opens with an absolute bang, and when we circle around to catch up to those moments near the ending, you’ll be so far drawn into the madness that the ending completely caught me off guard. I was reading this in our car, in the garage, as my son at fallen asleep. When ‘the end’ arrived, I was bawling. The floodgates had opened and I had to turn around and look at him, just to ground myself in the real world.

What I didn’t like: Oh yeah, this part of my reviews. I typically work hard to find something I don’t like in my 5 star reviews, and even work harder when it’s Andrew, because only so much of my love affair with his words can be biased, yeah? I’m truly stumped here with this one. Everything was picture perfect. I adored this book, if that’s a statement you can make regarding the subject matter that is put forth.

Actually, scratch that – I remember something. Ramsay. The detective. Ohh, he ground me wrong. So yeah, the detective! Take that!

Why you should buy it: Really? OK. Well, you should buy it because it’s Andrew Pyper, of course, but if you like crime-thrillers/mysteries with the perimeter brushing of a supernatural read, you can’t go wrong here. One thing that actually caught me off guard, was when I came to the end of the book, read the thanks from the author note and then flipped the digital page – it had a list of Andrew’s books, from then. The sheer fact that this book was his release before ‘The Demonologist’ made me do a double-take. Insanity. Pyper does continue to get better and better, but do not ignore his back catalog. He has never released a poor book, and ‘The Killing Circle’ may just be the best book I’ve ever read. I’ll be pondering that statement for some time, that’s for sure.

Easy 5/5 Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal I much preferred The Killing Circle to Andrew Pyper's Lost Girls. This seemed more polished and maybe straight-forward. I liked the tension, the creepiness. Patrick Rush, a single father and frustrated writer, joins a writing group. While the group doesn't actually inspire him, one story, by Angela, draws in all the budding authors. It tells the story of The Sandman, a killer who stalked a small town killing children. Is Angela telling a story from her past? In either case, killings begin in Toronto, members of the group notice a presence following them. Rush begins to see this stalker as well. Is the group in danger? The story progresses at a steady pace with Rush wandering between reality and fantasy? Or is it all reality? There are many typical horror elements in the story; why doesn't Rush tell everything to the police? Why does he feel he should investigate on his own? However, it is a horror, thriller, so these are expected. Pyper has a nice grasp on the way to build and hold tension. Very entertaining and spooky story. Well worth reading. (4 stars) Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal I won this through the Goodreads giveaways and I'm so glad. I stayed up all night to finish it, which I haven't felt compelled to do for a book in a long time, and I found it unnerving enough that I had to check the lock on the door and look in the closets about halfway through. I naturally have an overactive imagination anyway, but I haven't been this creeped out by a book in years. The story is intricate and nonlinear, and even though the narrator Patrick is kind of distant (which is appropriate for his character), the present tense narration made his story feel very close and immediate. That was especially good for the scary bits when Patrick felt someone had been in his house or in his yard or following him. The way the writing circle worked in and the novel that Patrick writes -- the idea that our lives, our identities, are stories that can be told and therefore stolen -- gave the book depth, as well. I couldn't guess where the story was going so the ending had real impact. This was a great, chilling read and I'm going to have to look up Pyper's other books. Literature Fiction, Mystery Thrillers, Paranormal