If White Knuckle reads like the tie-in novel to a classic 1980s slasher flick, it’s understandable – author Eric Red counts the original screenplays for 1980s horror classics The Hitcher and Near Dark among his accomplishments. White Knuckle benefits from Red’s cinematic background, as he tells the story – a rig-driving serial killer plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a determined, if inexperienced FBI agent – at a breakneck pace right from page one.
“White Knuckle” is the CD handle of a long haul trucker who’s been using the job for years as a cover for other, less savory pursuits. Sharon Ormsby is a detail-oriented FBI agent who manages to find a pattern in a series of murders that stretch back over decades; women are abducted in one location and their bodies are found several states away. Ormsby convinces her boss that her best bet at tracking the killer down is to ride the same roads he rides, and she pulls in a trucker named Rudy – a former suspect in the White Knuckle murders – to take her on the road.
What follows is a story that’s well-told but largely predictable, utilizing many of the classic tropes fans of police procedurals and serial killers will recognize right away. There are several opportunities for Red to veer off the beaten path here, but he largely ignores those to navigate more familiar roads.
The biggest misstep of the book is when Red brings the killer, a mysterious and shadowy presence for the first half of the story, out into the light. While the back story “White Knuckle” gets is told in chilling
fashion by Red, it demystifies him, changing him from a frightening blank space onto which we can project our own horrific details to a run-of-the-mill boogeyman, barely distinguishable from someone like Leatherface (with whom, it turns out, he shares quite a few characteristics). It’s not that the trucker is not an imposing villain – he’s far more crafty than most of his stalker brethren – but he’s largely a carbon copy of the kind of killers that litter the horror fiction landscape.
Familiarity aside, White Knuckle is an enjoyable read. Red’s prose is hammer down all the way, and while he’s not shy in dispensing the gory details, he never lingers in one place long enough to lose momentum. There are a couple of solid red herrings along the way that keep things lively, and some truly uncomfortable scenes involving some of the victims’ fates that showcase Red’s ability to write effective, lingering scares. If you’re looking for a good, solid read to wile away a few summer hours, White Knuckle is certainly worth a look.