Singlit Spotlight: ‘The Flesh Hunters’ Is The Adrenaline-Pumping Thriller We All Needed
STORY: Mandy Wong
09 June 2021
Mysterious serial killings? Check. Multiple mysterious serial killers? Check. Protagonists that keep you guessing where their allegiances really lie? Check. The Flesh Hunters, poet Jocelyn Suarez's debut novel, is a breath of adrenaline-pumping fresh air that the Singlit scene needed.
Still reeling from the recent apprehension of the graphically violent mass murderer Harbourview Butcher, the island of Osho is not ready for yet another serial killer amongst their midst – this time nicknamed the Highway Snatcher based on the MO of their latest string of murders. Forensic profiler Walter Kirino is called in to help out with the latest investigations, and it’s not simply because he’s a talented profiler in his own right – Walter is the only known person who has survived torture and attempted murder by the Harbourview Butcher. Together with Head Pathologist Amy Nishima and Division Chief Aida Anton, Walter needs to piece together the puzzle before he finds not one but two mass murderers becoming particularly interested in him.
First off, let’s get this clear – The Flesh Hunters was a very enjoyable read. The mystery was gripping, the characters were generally compelling, and it had an extremely interesting premise. The titular Hunters refer to a specific genotype of human beings that are apparently predisposed to violent killings and cannibalims, much like rabid, bloodthirsty animals – almost like a “serial killer” gene. A large part of the the story centers around the sociological and forensic study of having such a sub-group in the population, and how much they have contributed to the seemingly endless string of mass murders plaguing the island of Osho.
Our protagonists Walter Kirino and Amy Nishima are also generally compelling enough for the genre. Walter, understandably, suffers from PTSD and a whole host of other mental health issues from his traumatic experiences at the hands of the Harbourview Butcher, while Amy seems apparently less scathed by her own history. Interestingly, although we get a lot of flashbacks and insight into Walter’s psyche, this could tend to get overwhelming, leaving us more confused as to what exactly he’s experiencing, what his backstory is, and how he is trying to cope. On the other hand, we only know about Amy’s past from a detached third-person perspective, but her background seems to be a lot clearer and frankly more endearing and sympathetic as well.
Therein lies what I would pronounce to be the biggest flaw of the book. The Flesh Hunters has a lot of interesting ideas – in fact, it has an overabundance of them. It starts off strong with a clear hook in the story (who is the Highway Snatcher, and how does it relate to the previous string of murders committed by the Harbourview Butcher?) but then gets bogged down by so many complex themes, details, and backstories. On top of asking the central question of whether Hunters are born or made (in itself a great premise to base a whole murder mystery on), the book also tries to touch a bit here and there on things like casual racism, genetic testing, Nazi-esque genocides and human experiments, the cultural and religious history of fictional races. By the end of the book, it sometimes felt like I wasn’t sure what to focus on, and what I should be mulling about. The initial ideas the book started off strong with became diluted with all the other new themes that kept cropping up even past the halfway mark of the story. The book would have been improved if the central ideas of the book had been cut down to a maximum of two or three strong ones that were then more rigorously explored and delved into.
Overall though, The Flesh Hunters fills a much-needed space in the local literature scene – in being an entertaining romp that asks some thought-provoking questions that aren’t politically motivated. While it has its flaws, the book is a commendable debut novel nevertheless and hopefully a harbinger for better things to come from Jocelyn Suarez.