________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 11 . . . . November 11, 2011


Fit to Kill. (Rapid Reads).

James Heneghan.
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2011.
141 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-907-0.

Grade 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Vancouver’s Stanley Park peninsula hunched its granite shoulders against an early November storm.
Relentless rain and gale-force winds howled in from the ocean. West Enders knew that something terrible was going to happen. They stayed indoors and waited anxiously.

Julie Dagg was an exception. Nothing could make her stay home and miss her workouts. Twenty-five years old, she watched what she ate and kept herself slim and fit with regular workouts. Tuesdays and Thursdays she practiced yoga and self-defense for two hours at the Tae Kwon Do Academy on Robson Street. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays she grunted and sweated through weight training and cardio for an hour at the West End Fitness Center on Denman. . . .

Life was good. An hour or two each day was all it took. Stay fit, look great, live longer.

Still, Julie’s weekly Tae Kwon Do class is not enough to save her from the assailant who has been stalking her since her departure from the gym. And so, she becomes the first of five victims of a serial killer and rapist who terrorizes West Van. His victims are all women who work out at the West End Fitness Centre. The killer’s MO (modus operandi) follows a well-defined pattern: sexual assault of a bound and gagged victim, murder followed by decapitation, and with one exception, deposit of the headless naked body in Stanley Park or its environs. The murderer makes a kill every 13 days, and the crime is always preceded by a threatening letter to Vancouver’s Chief of Police, peppered with Biblical mis-quotations.

      Sebastian Casey is a 40-year-old reporter for the West End Clarion, a small community newspaper. At a recent annual physical, his doctor has given Sebastian the good news (“for an old guy of forty, you’re not doing too badly”) and the bad news, (“It’s the weight. . . . you’re twenty pounds over.” Sebastian’ doc has also reminded him that his potential life expectancy will improve if he finds himself “a good woman,” After a lunch with a 60-year-old colleague who is dedicated to his work-out regime (and has the physique to prove it), Sebastian decides to scout out the West End Fitness Centre. Seeing guys much older and much fitter is an incentive to stay and get into better shape. Emma Shaughnessy, a pretty young schoolteacher (who, like Sebastian, is an Irish émigré) and a gym regular, also becomes a motivator. Another “regular” is Sebastian’s neighbour from across the street, Albert Kayle. Albert has been married for 25 years to Matty (the former Mathilda Harrison), and it is an empty, loveless relationship. It is so empty, in fact, that Matty, “a nice woman, a real lady, with a quiet dignified way of speaking” who reminds Sebastian of his aunt in Belfast, is starting to harbour thoughts about what life would be like without Albert, permanently. No, she’s not thinking about divorce, either.

      As the search for the killer intensifies, so does the pace of the novel. In just 141 pages, Heneghan makes his characters come alive, and in the case of the women who are murdered, he creates individuals whose truly horrible deaths devastate those left behind. Although Fit to Kill is primarily a thriller about finding a killer, it is also about relationships of all sorts and on all levels: the daily camaraderie of the workplace (the staff at the Clarion) and the gym, the sadness of a loveless marriage, the sexual intensity of male-female relationships (although the novel features openly gay characters, as well).

      Certainly, Fit to Kill is the most “adult” of any of the “Rapid Reads” I have reviewed. As is warned prior to some television shows, “readers are advised that this contains language and situations not suitable for young readers” (young being less than 16). Interestingly, although the killer’s attacks are truly horrible, the author avoids graphic depiction of violence. Instead , Heneghan provides just enough detail to make the victim’s terror absolutely visceral.

      Does Matty kill Albert? Does Sebastian lose twenty pounds and win Emma’s heart? Is the West End Killer caught, and do his victims receive the justice that they deserve? By the end of the novel, all those questions are answered. Fit to Kill is more “adult” than young adult fiction, and although its reading level is stated to be 5.0, I think that it can be a good choice for a reluctant reader in the upper grades of high school (grades 11 and 12). It’s also fine for a capable reader who wants “a rapid read.” But, as cautioned, both language and content will make this unsuitable for some schools and some readers. Read the book before recommending it to a student.


Joanne Peters, a retired high school teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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