Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


Head Wounds by Chris Knopf








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Chris Knopf’s third novel featuring Southhampton and Sam Acquillo is titled Head Wounds. This time out Sam the carpenter is a suspect in the murder of a builder, Robbie Milhouser, who was killed with Sam’s construction staple gun. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, pp. 31-33:


The Monday after Amanda's house burned down I was at the corner place in the Village buying a large Viennese cinnamon coffee and a customized croissant stuffed with cheese and Virginia ham. After five years of steady seduction I'd finally established a fragile rapport with the tiny Guatemalan woman who ran the pastry counter. This allowed me to wrangle special orders, managed mostly through the lavish use of terms like bonita, guapa and Senorita Lista.

It was half an hour before I had to show up at Joshua Edelstein's house, so I sat on the teak park bench and pretended the tempera­ture was above freezing. The coffee helped the cause, steaming up in my face and easing down the ham sandwich.

A battleship gray Crown Victoria swung so abruptly into the parking space in front of the bench I almost pulled my feet out of the way. It was Sullivan, resplendent in Yankees cap, tough-cop sun­glasses and aftermarket battle wear. He said something into a radio before getting out of the car.

"You like that faggie coffee," he said, standing in front of the bench with his hands in his jacket pockets.

"You're blocking my sun."

"Stay put," he said and went into the shop, returning soon after with a bagel and a tall cup of his own. Looked like a latte. He sat down next to me, taking up more than half the space.

"I got the prelims on the fire from the County," he said. "Wasn't much of a challenge, even for those bozos."


"Oh, yeah. Gasoline siphoned out of a step van the finish car­penters had left on the site. The hose was still sticking out of the tank. Filled up a couple of empty compound buckets. Threw it all over the house, then tossed the buckets in the backyard."

"Didn't put up a sign that said, 'Arsonists at work?"

"Next-door neighbor heard voices right before noticing the big glow. Heard a truck pull away."

"Heard but didn't see," I said.

"Said he was just lying there in bed, trying to sleep. Under­standable. No reason to look. You usually don't know you're a wit­ness to something until some cop shows up at your door."

He took a bite of the bagel. Cream cheese oozed out of the middle and tumbled down the front of his camouflage field jacket.

"Not a professional job," I offered.

"Unless their profession was advertising."

"P. T. Barnum invented advertising. Said there was a sucker born every minute."

"These guys weren't suckers. Smarter than that."


"Wore gloves and something on their feet that disguised their footprints. Just looked like blobs in the mud. Almost no sole prints." "Booties," I said, after a moment's thought.


"Lightweight, disposable shoe covers. Made of Gor-Tex or Trek. Used in ultra-sterile, ultra-pure environments. Like clean rooms, where a single piece of dust can louse up a semiconductor. Or in bioresearch, or drug production."

"You know this?" Sullivan asked.

"I know about booties. I don't know if they used them. Just a guess. If they did, you're right. They're smart."

Some more deliberation time passed, which I used to finish off my coffee as a distraction from the envy I was feeling over Sullivan's chocolate-sprinkled latte.

"They wanted to advertise the act, not the actors," said Sullivan. "A summation both trenchant and poetic," I told him, sincerely. "I'm gonna assume that wasn't an insult," he said, downing the

last of his bagel and cream cheese. "Speaking of which," he said,

brushing crumbs off his jacket, "have you talked to Amanda?"

"Had a few insults of her own?"

"After you ran off. She wasn't happy."

"Did she hear the discussion with the County people?" I asked. "Wasn't supposed to, but yeah. Elbowed her way in. Heard it all."

"Must have been interesting."

"Actually shut her up. I figured exhaustion finally got to her. I had Will Ervin escort her back to her house and told him to keep a tight eye on her and her other place."

"Have any theories?"

"I might ask you the same thing," he said.

"Nothing worth talking about."

"In other words, you're not talking."

"In other words, if I start talking about it to you in your official capacity, I might be jumping the gun."

He savored a gentle pull off the top of the latte, smacking his lips like he'd just dipped into Aunt Tillie's prize-winning apple pie.

"I'm in the mood to try something new this time, Sam. What say you tell me everything you're thinking now, no matter how half-baked, rather than making me guess until I'm ready to start beating you over the head to get it out of you."

"No more beating on the head. Doctor's orders."

"So I hear," he said.

"Yeah? From whom?" I asked.

"I'm not ready to talk about that."


"Though I might've heard a few things one time when I was lifting weights next to a trauma doc. Somebody we both know." "Fucking Markham."

"He said the same crap about me. You're not the only one who's had his bean used for batting practice."


Head Wounds is a mystery that respects the intelligence of readers, and presents a complicated and bright protagonist with a cast of friends to keep the novel lively. Knopf nails this genre with skill and rewards readers with fine prose and great characters.


Steve Hopkins, August 15, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the Seeptember 2008 issue of Executive Times


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