The Bottom Line: This nervy, disturbing, gut-punch of a vigilante novel is unlike anything you’ve ever read. It’s also one of the year’s best thrillers.
With few exceptions, the legal thriller genre exists to elevate fictional heroes of the justice system – attorneys, judges and others who go beyond the call of duty to ensure fairness in an otherwise unfair world. In his novel The American Strangler, Robert M. Fleisher delivers just the opposite, focusing instead on those who use the justice system for financial gain and power.
Fleisher’s protagonist, Dr. Ron Rellick, a dentist, is the victim of a malicious malpractice suit. It’s clear from the get-go that Ron believes he’s innocent. He’s also unnaturally angry, and not just at attorneys who initiate baseless malpractice suits. Ron’s anger is directed at politics, society and even the government. The resulting mayhem reaches even the White House.
The urgency and vitriol of Ron’s inner thoughts are sweat-inducing. Ron may look normal, but inside, he’s absolutely volcanic, thinking thoughts like, “Greed motivates these whores. They lie for money, looking to make an easy buck. They orchestrate the scheme, then rehearse the words.” It’s hardly a surprise when he eventually commits his first murder, but the journey is both shocking and rewarding.
Fleisher’s hair-raising courtroom scenes would be the envy of many novelists, but it’s the evolution of Ron’s philosophy that really makes The American Strangler exceptional. Like Howard Beale in the classic film Network (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”), Ron’s struggle is common enough to make him sympathetic to many readers. Fortunately, Fleisher isn’t content to make Ron one-dimensional. For example, Ron’s diatribe on “the ninety-nine percent” may be enough to sow doubt in his most ardent supporters, and these complexities create a sophisticated character arc that is rare in this or any genre.
Whether readers love or abhor Ron, one thing is for sure. They won’t be able to put this book down.