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The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Henry Holt and Co. Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780805094268
Date: 10 April 2012 List Price $27.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Geiger has turned torture into a sophisticated, highly technical art form. He is favorably regarded as "The Inquisitor" by his promoter, Little Italy's mob boss Carmine Delanotte. Rather than employing crude methods, such as cutting off body parts, Geiger relies mostly on scaring people into telling him the truth. When a mysterious client, Richard Hall, brings Geiger a twelve-year-old boy, Ezra Matheson, for torture, he experiences a meltdown. Snatching Ezra, Geiger must outwit a team of contract killers as he struggles to reunite the boy with his mom.

Mark Allen Smith's The Inquisitor was a pleasant surprise. I had expected it to be a gory, ultra-violent noir. Instead, it was more of a poignant, psychological thriller in which a small team of misfits are chased across Manhattan by a team of organized killers who are always one step behind them. Thanks to technological devices, each team manages to outsmart and outmaneuver the other one. There are only a few deaths and the torture scenes instigated by Geiger, the good inquisitor, are designed to inflict more psychological pain than physical harm. However, there is Dalton, the evil inquisitor, who likes to cut, stab, and chop his victims. Fortunately, the depictions of his torture aren't too graphic. It is rumored that he cut off the lower lip of one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen.

In order to make their novels more appealing, authors add what I call the 'adorable factor'. This is usually the addition of a child or pet. In this novel, you have the twelve-year-old boy, Ezra Matheson, who Geiger is risking his life to protect. Geiger has a scarred pet cat, known simply as Cat. It is my belief that Geiger keeps the stray cat around because it reminds him of himself. Both are emotionally and physically scarred and live under the radar. No one knows who they really are. Geiger's best friend and business partner, Harry Boddicker, has a mentally ill sister, Lilly, who suffers from catatonic schizophrenia. The reader can't help but feel sympathy for both Lilly and Harry; everyone praises Harry, saying he is a good man for taking care of Lilly.

The Inquisitor is replete with bizarre characters. The strangest one is Geiger himself. Geiger is not his real name; he doesn’t know what it is. Everyone assumes Geiger is named after the Geiger counter which detects radiation; Geiger, the Inquisitor, detects lies. Actually, he named himself after a book based on the artwork of H.R. Giger. He added the extra "e" for symmetry. Suffering from amnesia, he doesn't remember his life prior to waking up in a Greyhound station on September 6, 1996. Until the events in this novel, he had never been inside a fast food restaurant or a pharmacy and had never owned a gun. A recluse, his only friend is his business partner Harry who writes the transcripts for his torture sessions. Harry was a down-and-out, alcoholic obituary writer for the New York Times when Geiger saved him from being beat to death by two skinheads in Central Park. Geiger has a habit of rescuing the innocent, whether they are stray cats, frightened boys or alcoholic journalists. I suppose they all remind him of himself.

As far as the novel's originality is concerned, I've seen films where the bad guy champions the cause of a child. While reading The Inquisitor, I kept thinking of Luc Besson's superb film, The Professional. Leon, an Italian hit man, must protect a neighbor girl, Mathilda, from a vicious cop, Norman Stansfield, who slaughtered her family. Leon undergoes the same transformation as Geiger when he is protecting Mathilda. They develop a father/child relationship. Neither can be separated from the other. An adult, when suddenly faced with having to take care of a child, is often forced to mend their deviant lifestyle. Unfortunately, The Professional has a more tragic ending than The Inquisitor. Also, The Professional was more violent; the killers were more ruthless. The killers in The Inquisitor were sometimes bumbling fools who were too merciful. There were many times when the main antagonist, Richard Hall, could've murdered Geiger but didn't and vice versa.

Mark Allen Smith's The Inquisitor is highly recommended because of the innocent boy and psychologically ill woman who are in mortal danger, the light humor, the tense, perilous atmosphere, the July 4th setting, and the strangeness surrounding Geiger. Not a typical whodunit, The Inquisitor is better classified as a noir.

The only mystery, besides Geiger's true identity, is the identity of those who are responsible for pulling the strings of Richard Hall. Nevertheless, The Inquisitor is a fast-paced, easy-to-read novel, the bulk of which takes place within twenty-four hours. This one will be difficult to put down, especially when reading the last one-hundred pages. I look forward to Smith's next thriller.

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