Protagonist of Kenneth S. Kappelmann’s NEVER BEEN TRACED isn’t your run-of-the-mill fictional investigator. According to police detective Tomas O’Malley himself, he is the best police detective in all of Chicago. He’s an ex-Marine and a martial arts champion who drives around in a muscle car. Also, O’Malley lost not one but two colleagues in the line of duty, making him twice as traumatized as your regular fictional police detective. However, on-page this no-nonsense middle-aged professional he-man often comes off as vain, petty, even childish. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – O’Malley is quite funny and smart as well. But there’s a distinct gap between this power fantasy of a character Kappelmann introduces and the way his protagonist thinks and acts in the story. Furthermore, it turns out that O’Malley’s by far most useful and impressive skill isn’t his black belt or military background but his ability to read people and predict their behavior.
O’Malley investigates the death of Mark Schulman, high school football athlete who, as it turns out, was also a bully and a rapist. Mark is merely the first victim of a killer targeting members of a high school council that covered up his crimes. What begins as a relatively grounded crime novel about a high school homicide soon turns into a Hollywood thriller. Suddenly there are Special Forces veterans, contract killers, and mob bosses. Kappelmann’s seemingly earnest warnings about the unwillingness of institutions to address harassment get drowned out by the over-the-top plot. To make matters worse, O’Malley and his colleagues — Detectives Halterman, Huston, Sullivan as well as their boss, Sergeant Carter — are quite bad at their jobs. While they methodically search for clues, the killer keeps murdering people with brutality far outweighing the nature of their misdeeds.
And yet, despite all these flaws and clichés, NEVER BEEN TRACED is undoubtedly entertaining. Its plot moves at a brisk pace, and the playful banter between the characters is fun to read. On top of that, there are moments of genuine thrills when Detective O’Malley uses his wits, experience, and insight to interrogate suspects and witnesses alike.
NEVER BEEN TRACED isn’t a classic of crime fiction but it is a fun, fast-moving pulpy story featuring plenty of kills, thrills, and chills.
~Danijel Striga for IndieReader