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3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting, if contrived, sequel to "Slob", 17 Dec 2012
This is the second Chaingang novel I have read since unearthing "Slob" a few months ago, and whilst I was throroughly impressed with that meaty slab of splatter-cop pulp fiction, this sequel fails to capture the same magic.


It's not a bad novel: Miller was smart enough to avoid the obvious pitfall of trying to emulate too closely his previous success, dispensing - more or less - with the police procedural side of things (no Jack Eichord here), and instead framing the action as a kind of clash of the serial-killing titans between Daniel "Chaingang" Bunkwoski, a 450-pound, heart-eating, puppy-loving genius of the art of serial-murder, and "Shooter" Price, an impotent, psychotic, indiscriminate spree-killer with spec-ops training and the single most advanced sniper weapon on the planet. It's an approach thriller fans are pretty familiar with today, thanks to the likes of Jeff Lindsay's "Dexter" novels and their television spinoff, but back in 1994 this was a real attempt to create something different and edgy. The author deserves some credit for that, at least.

The problem with "Savant" is not so much one of the overarching plot itself, which has a good deal of exciting potential, but rather the lazy and improbable way the major plot points are strung together - the nuts and bolts, if you will: Chaingang is released from his ultra-secure death row cell by SAUCOG, the same secret government organisation that, years before, sent him to 'Nam to be their one-man anti-Viet Kong hit squad, only to release him now onto the streets of Kansas City to kill as he pleases. Their paper-thin justification is that they want to "observe him" in his own environment, but there seems to be little structure or point or even any potential benefit in this move, and the potential costs seem disproportionately huge, not only in terms of human life (they are a shady, heartless cabal, after all) but also in terms of the privacy and security of their own top-secret operation! To confound matters, the guy they send to keep an eye on Chaingang is the infamous, hair-trigger, psycho-sniper gun-nut mentioned above. Either someone in SAUCOG's HR department is in need of a career change or Rex Miller just wanted to see two professional killers fight to the death and didn't really give a stuff about how thinly contrived the set-up was.

But it's not like we cut straight to the action, either. Shooter and Chaingang don't come face-to-face until the bitter end, and the rest of the story is padded out with numerous plot threads, some of which don't really go anywhere: Chaingang plots revenge on his elderly foster mother (nothing comes of it), Shooter kills people, Chaingang hires a secretary and operates a mail-order scam (I'm serious!), Shooter kills people, Chaingang wastes a biker gang that tortures kittens, Shooter kills a prostitute, Chaingang crucifies some drug dealers, a news reporter thinks the killings are racially-motivated (they're not, and his parallel story arc barely touches the main plot at all, although I liked the character), Shooter kills people, Chaingang kills a sexual predator who abuses dogs and children... etc. etc.

An interesting development, as you can see, is that Chaingang is actually given a semi-heroic role. With only a single exception, everyone he kills in this novel is a dangerous scumbag in their own right, just begging for a nasty end of the kind he gleefully dishes out, while Price murders innocent civilians at random. The intention is to get the reader to side with Chaingang in the final battle, and it works to some extent, but probably not as well as Miller planned: sure, I wanted to see Chaingang live to make Price eat that damned rifle, but by this point, Miller has painted him a little TOO well as the disgusting, terrifying, inhuman, primal beast of one's worst nightmares for the reader to really worry about what happens to him beyond that.

All-in-all, compared with "Slob", "Savant" seems pretty sloppy and slapdash, but Miller's gruesome imagination and vivid prose just about pulls it off. At three quid for the Kindle version, or less if you can find a used paperback copy, it's a decent, time-consuming read for a horror fan. But it won't knock anyone's socks off.
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Savant by Dr Rex Miller (Paperback - 1 April 2000)
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