My first encounter with Michael J. Seidlinger's prose came via his dark novel The Sky Conducting. The book stuck with me because Seidlinger pulled off two things that are rarely seen. For starters, the narrative was the first truly unique and engaging work of post-apocalyptic fiction I'd read in years. Also, the author's prose was the best example of economy of language I'd encountered in a very long time. In a way, it felt like reading a darker, more lyrical version of James Ellroy. With My Pet Serial Killer, Seidlinger has once again brought to the table the elements that make his work so enjoyable and then taken a step further: he's reinvented the serial killer thriller.
Claire Wilkinson is a graduate student of forensics who's obsessed with serial murderers. She navigates the phony, oversexed world of clubs in search of a man who appeals to her. When she finds an elegant, good-looking guy who seems to be making women disappear at will, the hunt is on. A strange relationship blossoms and, although it's clear who the killer is, soon dependency, obsession, and psychological punishment blur the line between victim and aggressor. Claire has what she wants and provides the killer, whose work gets noticed and earns him the name the Gentleman Killer, with what he needs. The arrangement is perfect for a while, but Claire also has a secret agenda that turns the bloodthirsty killer into a toy, a pet, a mere object of study.
My Pet Serial Killer walks the line between a thriller and a horror novel. The story moves along nicely thanks to Seidlinger's economic, straightforward prose, and Claire and the Gentleman Killer are treated very differently even if they somewhat share the spotlight when it comes to the crucial moments in the narrative. Despite having all that going for it, the best thing about the novel is the way the author brought together a sharp deconstruction of American culture and mixed it with everything from top-notch gore and the nature of academia to the darkest corners of a relationship, webcam porn, and our obsession with serial killers.
If The Sky Conducting was to some extent an updated version of the classic post-apocalyptic tale of survival, My Pet Serial Killer is clearly a complete reinvention of the serial killer story. Claire seeks out the Gentleman Killer, molds him, directs his murderous energy, becomes his lover, and provides the privacy and security he needs to become a known murderer. In the process, she also gains control over him, shatters his confidence, exposes his weaknesses, and ultimately discards him like a dead lab rat. The power plays, and the healthy doses of sex, humiliation, and death that come with them, are what makes My Pet Serial Killer a must-read.
Social critique and the taste of human flesh seldom mixes together as well as they do in My Pet Serial Killer. Michael J. Seidlinger has a knack for revamping genres, and this book is entertaining proof of that.