The Red Scream

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Molly Cates has just completed a book concerning Louie Bronk, a condemned drifter who confessed to killing five women. As Bronk’s execution date nears, Molly’s plan for a follow-up story are thwarted by Charlie McFarland, the rich and powerful widower of Tiny McFarland, Bronk’s last victim. Then Molly begins receiving anonymous rhyming letters from “The Master Poet,” informing her he will use her book as a blueprint for more killings, and that her own life is threatened. Nevertheless, Molly continues her research. Soon she discovers discrepancies in the autopsy photos of Bronk’s victims; the wounds found on his final victim were clumsily inflicted, unlike the others. David Serrano, the handyman who found Tiny McFarland’s body, meets Molly and hints that Bronk did not kill Tiny. Before Molly can get the details, however, Serrano is killed. Shortly thereafter, Charlie McFarland’s new wife is killed in the same manner as the other five women.

At this point, readers learn that Charlie’s daughter Alison also had a motive for murdering Tiny McFarland. Alison could gain a large inheritance from Tiny, and Charlie may have wanted revenge for Tiny’s infidelity.

Suddenly, Bronk recants his confession to a nationwide press, and Molly’s book, which included excerpts from his confession, is discredited. Bronk tells Molly she can prove him innocent of Tiny’s murder, and Molly unearths evidence which supports his claim. Despite her efforts, Bronk is executed on schedule. Molly refuses to halt her probing into the question of who killed Tiny, her successor, and David Serrano. As Molly drives home from the execution, she meets the killer and learns the real story in time to salvage her book.

Fans of the mystery genre will enjoy THE RED SCREAM. Since the story is set in Walker’s native Austin, Texas, her descriptions are detailed and accurate. Unfortunately, the novel is marred by the cliche of the murderer’s revelatory boasting in the final pages.