Saturday, July 4, 2015

Book Reviews: Necessary Evil

Necessary Evil
by David A. Van Meter
This is a very creepy thriller/horror revenge story. It's told in first person so you never get the chance to step outside of the subject's mind. This was a short novel, just over 300 pages. It's an older book, written a little over twenty years ago. It was very graphic for the times, but still retains its ability to shock even in today's grindcore market. Revenge is not really a morally good feeling is it? We try to get rid of it by outsourcing private revenge to a dispassionate justice system. But for some crimes and for some people that's not enough. Some people are able to forgive the worst trespasses as indeed Christianity argues that they should. Vengeance is not man's but God's. Other people scoff at such arguments. If someone hurts them or gives them trouble they want to repay evil for evil, hurt for hurt, pain for pain to bitter end. For some people turning the other cheek only invites further attacks. And even if it didn't it would still be morally wrong to do so. You come after me with a bat; I get my gun. You put my brother in the hospital; I leave your son's casket on your front door. And so on. Most societies can not operate if everyone behaved in such a fashion because we'd live in a Hobbesian state of nature where no one can trust anyone who is stronger than they are. So in order to have the benefits of society we all implicitly agree to give up our private desires of revenge or retribution to accept the dictates of judges, juries and the law. But what if the law lets us down? Then what? Do we accept that sometimes a guilty person gets away with his or her crime? Or does that haunt us? In Necessary Evil, Van Meter shows almost in a clinical way how an act of evil impacts a child and warps him for life. If you have ever wondered where an adult psychopath came from, Necessary Evil gives a pretty good, though occasionally cliched, depiction of just how such a human being is created. The story jumps back and forward through time. We get childhood memories, teenage memories and finally present day descriptions from a thirty three year old man.

Billy McIlwaine is a thirty three year old man who has just been released from prison for a horrific crime which is not important to know about in this review. He's seemingly adjusted to being back in society. He has a job as a security guard and does his best to stay out of trouble. All the same though Billy is haunted by memories of a better time. Twenty three years prior when Billy was just ten he was forced to witness the murder of his maternal grandfather. In part Billy blames himself for his grandfather's murder. Not only did the lowlife perpetrators not go to jail they were able to claim self-defense and even successfully sued the estate. Billy's father Ned cared nothing for his father-in-law or wife and son. As soon as he learned there was no money forthcoming, he left. Even when he was around he wasn't much of a husband or father. He abused and cheated religiously on his wife, Billy's mother Grace. Grace is an alcoholic who has attempted suicide. Left to grow up with the clingy and oft inappropriate Grace (this is quite a Freudian story) Billy becomes alienated in some very real ways that go unnoticed. By the time Billy is a teen, Grace has turned her life around and become very financially successful in real estate. She doesn't have a lot of time left to tend to Billy. She has work to do. But Billy is obsessed with finding the two men who murdered his beloved grandfather.    

The book sort of dragged a bit in the middle. I did like the idea that people can often be in love with a false memory of a person or in love with who that person used to be and not realize that that person doesn't exist any longer. Our experiences define us and can also twist us. If evil is anything it's the inability to empathize, to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Over time, Billy gradually loses the ability to do this. As everything is told from Billy's POV, the story can get kind of claustrophobic at times. And because Billy is not always certain that what he's seeing is actually there, there are some deliberately unanswered questions. All in all this was an ok book. Not horrible, not the best. Evil can invoke pity at the same time as we know that we must remove the infected person from society, perhaps even from the planet.
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