Review: The Killing Lessons (Valerie Hart #1) by Saul Black @OrionBooks

Image result for the killing lessons by saul black


When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper’s isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it’s the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it’s just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims–women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them–has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she’s losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

But the murders at the Cooper farmhouse didn’t quite go according to plan. There was a survivor, Rowena’s ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more dangerous than what she’s running from.



I’ve had this book on my shelves for literally years – Amazon tells me I purchased it on 29th Feb 2016!!! – and I don’t really know why it’s taken me so long to get around to it. I can honestly say this is one of the best police-procedural-crime-dramas I’ve read in a long time!

The opening scene, a single mother in her house, seeing two men, and coming to the quick realisation that today’s the day she’s going to die, is so shocking and instantly grabs you. From there, the book doesn’t let you go. Even though the book lulls into some more emotional and sensitive parts, Black keeps you fully engaged with the story by sprinkling these quieter scenes with quick, punchy shocks that lead straight back into the drama. And oh, how delicious that drama is! It’s been a while since I’ve read a really gruesome, squirm-worthy story (Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ excluded) but this filled all those morbid needs of mine. This is definitely not a book for the faint-hearted, it’s filled with some really shocking moments! It’s also worth noting Black does not mess around in this novel. There are so many moments that punch you straight in the gut. Be prepared for several heartbreaking moments.

The crime of this novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s so difficult to create new crimes in books and that’s why we so often find the same story written over and over again, but this really is something new (for me at least!). It’s so dark, disturbed and evil. The killers themselves aren’t literature changing, but the motivation behind the killings is insane and the process of Valerie and the team discovering it is heart racing and intense.

The writing in this one is bloody fantastic, I mean I thought the Erika Foster books were good in terms of the story, but the writing was pretty flat. This, however, takes crime writing to another level. Black stepped into the skin of so many different people and you can feel that so many real emotions went into writing this book. The way he’s able to describe feelings and emotions is absolutely on the nose, how someone verbalises those things I have no idea, it’s like he’s crawled into your very being.

Another thing I loved about the writing in this novel is how it was told. It’s told in the third person from all the main characters, plus a few extras who only appear for a single chapter. I loved this switching and changing between the characters, it kept the story interesting and it was fun seeing the occurrences from each person.

I saw a review for this novel not too long ago, and it mentioned how the main detective was the cliché you find in all police-procedurals. Heart-broken, alcoholic, haunted but determined, and I thought “oh, great”, but surprisingly, even those Valerie was just that and that is the kind of main detective I usually hate, I found myself really engaging with her character. While she was reasonably self-pitying, it didn’t offend me as much as it has done from other similar characters. I thought she was pretty hard-headed and exciting.

The only thing I can say negatively about this book is that I felt the end dragged a little and suddenly became overly dramatised. I felt most of the novel, although outlandish, felt very real, but to keep momentum at the end, Black added in several very “Hollywood” moments which I felt ruined the realism the rest of the novel held. Also, the synopsis makes quite a focus on the little girl who escapes the murder scene at the beginning of the book, and while the book does go back to her a few times, her escape is not a huge part of the story until right near the end.

Other than that, this book was absolutely top notch! I’m definitely, definitely going to buy the second Valerie Hart novel (LoveMurder) and I hope Black brings out more in the series. I highly recommend this novel to any crime-thriller lovers out there! I’ve already passed this one on to my dad as I think he’d love it!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐✨ (4.5 stars)

*Buy it here: Amazon UK | Book Depository | Wordery (cheapest here!)

19 Replies to “Review: The Killing Lessons (Valerie Hart #1) by Saul Black @OrionBooks”

  1. I might have added this one to my readlist around the same time haha :-). I still haven’t read it but I’m pretty excited now. Maybe the Hollywood feel in the end was already with the adaptation to movie in mind, who knows. By the sound of it, it should be made into a movie!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, usually I skip right over murder mystery type novels but I’m really intrigued by this one! I’m so glad I clicked on this review – it sounds amazing!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: