Martin Arkenhout found his true calling on a lonely Florida highway -- with a sharp rock to the skull of an injured friend. He didn't just take the boy's life; he went on to live it. When that life became too risky, he found another, and another, changing his name, papers and style at will, until he chose the wrong life -- a scholarly thief on the run from the determined and troubled John Costa. The two men will meet, and there will be murder. But there is something much worse: the sweet seduction of taking another's life to be your own. Chillingly suspenseful, brilliantly executed and truly disturbing, Taking Lives is an entertainment to make you think and shiver.
The second novel by the author of The Drowning Room is equal parts literary thriller, noir study of the mysteries of identity and poignant account of exile and return. It begins as Martin Arkenhout, a Dutch exchange student traveling in Florida, brutally dispatches a traveling companion badly injured by a hit-and-run driver, rationalizing the death blow as a mercy killing. He then takes over the victim's identity and begins a series of such killings, ever in search of new persona�as long as each victim has good sources of cash and credit. One of them, however, turns out to be an art historian who has stolen some valuable antique watercolors from the British Museum, and John Costa, a minor official at the museum, sets out to find him. He tracks Arkenhout to Portugal, where the novel takes a new turn�for Costa's father recently returned there after a life of exile in London, and on his death it becomes clear that he left a mystery, related to the dire politics of the old days, behind him. Costa and Arkenhout both become involved with an attractive local lawyer; there is an inevitable further murder and yet another switch of identities; and the book ends on a somberly enigmatic note. Pye is a writer with a remarkable eye and a fresh, vigorous style, and many scenes leap to life; the sense of rustic life in Portugal is exquisitely rendered (the author lives there), and he is equally adept at sudden outbursts of violence. But the book's rather shallow concept, including its unconvincing sex scenes involving the Portuguese lawyer, weighs against its virtues. It reads as if the author intended to write a modish thriller, then was led, by the weight of his material, into more interesting but ultimately unresolved directions. 50,000 first printing. (Mar.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 23, 2004
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Excerpt from Taking Lives by Michael Pye
Two boys ride the bus through Florida. One of them won't be alive much longer.
This is summer, 1987. Hot skies going basalt, boiled air. A road straight and bone-colored through grass and marsh.
Neither of the boys belongs here, you can tell. They stare out of the windows, but they don't want to be caught doing it.
The highway leads only on. They see towns that repeat one another like puzzle pictures: spot the eight differences in oceans of crabgrass and civic pink oleanders.
The first boy is Martin Arkenhout. Seventeen. Doesn't talk to people much; he doesn't have the habit. Besides, he's foreign--Dutch, blond, tall, white, lanky--and he can't stop himself feeling scared and superior all at once. He sees the crackers on the bus, and he thinks they're potato eaters out of some beach-party van Gogh. There are Hispanics, too, with the dark skin that looks rich to him, but he won't reach out. He's a careful boy.
He works out kilometers and miles to judge the speed. He slouches back to the bathroom and pisses into the lurching tank of liquid, then weaves back to his seat. He gets to wondering, eyes glazed, whether he truly wants to be here: a kid, going to be just a foreign kid at some American high school for a year, expected somehow to grow up.
Each stop, he gets off the bus and buys more Pepsi. By eleven in the morning, he has a fair caffeine buzz, his eyes very open on the world but with not much to see.
"I don't know why I did this," someone says.
Arkenhout looks up.
"I thought this was a really cool idea," the second boy says. "See America."
"Where are you going?"
"College. The way hard way."
"Oh," Arkenhout says. "So am I."
"You're not American?"
"Cool." The word sounds like absolution for being foreign. After a while, the boy says, "You have those marijuana cafes, don't you?"
Arkenhout says, "And Rembrandt."
"Yeah, yeah. Sorry."
This second boy is tall, blond, and white, like a snapshot of Arkenhout that's been retouched: hair seriously cut, more worked out, less tired and more brown.
"Seth Goodman," the second boy says.
Arkenhout thinks the name sounds like a fiction; he remembers nineteenth-century novels in English class.
"Christ!" Goodman said. "The bus--"
The doors are already shut. A parting signal of blue-black exhaust. The boys run and hammer on the doors and after a false start and a moment, the driver opens up.
"You didn't hear me shouting?" he says.
They both apologize, remembering the same lessons: nice boys.
They sit apart for the next hour and a half. At the next stop they buy chili dogs and coffee.
"I'm going to New York University," Goodman says.
"I'm in America for a year abroad. Before university." But Goodman doesn't seem to mind the canyon gap in status. They're both on the road, after all.
"Where are you from?" Arkenhout asks, politely.
"Jackson, Michigan. In the Midwest. Famous for its giant waterfall with colored lights."
"This is my first time in America."
"Really. You play baseball in Holland?"