Note: Originally published as a review on Underground Book Reviews old website. Novel was republished independently recently with new title.
“Kill’t Dead or Worse” takes place in the Austin suburb of Pflugerville, Texas. It’s the story of Nick Sibelius, a down-and-out private detective hired to find the missing daughter of a local pastor. Instead, he stumbles into a vat of messy intrigue. Junior, a local farmer, has turned his property into an illegal toxic waste dump. People who stumble onto his land have a tendency to disappear. Of course, the plot isn’t that simple. Along the way Nick contends with a host of bad guys, not so bad guys, and a beautiful woman with toxic secrets of her own. There are also kidnappings, “The Rupture” (you just have to read it), clues, gun fights, car chases, more clues, car crashes, deadly fires, Nick’s unusual office assistant, and evil dentistry. Intrigued? You should be.
“Kill’t Dead or Worse” is more than standard crime-fiction fare. First, it’s funny. Not grab-your-gut-and-roll-over-laughing funny, but a comfortable shade of subtle, light humor that makes you crack a smile or snort every few pages. Most of it’s laughs are courtesy of Junior, a “good ole’boy” gone bad. Anyone who has lived in rural America knows a Junior. I know several and can recommend the novel for Junior’s antics and internal dialogue alone.
Junior is just one of several well-written characters Hacker creates around his hero. This author excels at changing points of view without losing the reader. He leverages this to quickly build character depth and keep us turning pages. He often shows these secondary characters through Junior’s point of view. However, we get so much Junior that “Kill’t Dead or Worse” almost becomes a novel about him and not Nick. The book goes noticeably long stretches before cycling back to Nick. As a result it feels like Nick is there to support the secondary characters and not the other way around. However, since this will be a series, I assume there will be ample time to further develop Nick Sibelius.
Hacker doesn’t present Junior, or anything about rural Texas, with stereotypical disdain. He treats Central Texas like a relative, perhaps like a well-intentioned half-brother you love but also know is nuts. You love him, craziness and all. If you’ve ever spent time in Texas, and love it like I do, you’ll catch yourself nodding and smiling as Hacker masterfully weaves his plot through the cultural fabric of the Lone Star State. In fact, I wish he would have injected more Texas flavor into the novel, but I suppose he’s saving it for the Nick Sibelius books to come.
“Kill’t Dead or Worse” is a smart novel chocked full of great characters and light humor. Finding humor and action surrounding Texas culture and a toxic waste dump, “Kill’t Dead or Worse” is anything but toxic.