BOOK REVIEW: 'Red 1-2-3': Edge-of-Seat Thriller About a Novelist Planning Deaths of 3 Women to Revive His Career

Updated 6 years ago Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

What do you do if you're a mid-list crime novelist who's 64 years old and hasn't had a best-seller in years? If you're the unnamed writer protagonist in John Katzenbach's "Red 1-2-3" (Mysterious Press, 378 pages, $26.00. also available in a Kindle edition) you embark on a serial killing spree that will at the same time restart your career and make you as famous as Lizzie Borden or Billy the Kid or John Dillinger.

Known only as "Big Bad Wolf" -- we never learn his real name --  the writer sends letters to three women:  Dr. Karen Jayson -- "Red One" -- 51, an internist, single, with a secret avocation; Sarah Locksley, "Red Two", 33, a former school teacher, a widow after her husband and young daughter were killed in a traffic accident; and Jordan Ellis, "Red Three", 17, a senior at a private prep school, a loner, except for  playing on the basketball team.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Red 1-2-3': Edge-of-Seat Thriller About a Novelist Planning Deaths of 3 Women to Revive His Career

Here's what Katzenbach writes:

The opening lines were delivered without salutation or introduction: “One bright, fine day Little Red Riding Hood decided to take a basket of delicious goodies to her beloved grandmother, who lived on the far side of the deep, dark woods . . .” You undoubtedly first heard the story years ago when you were small children. But you were probably told the sanitized version: the grandmother hides in her closet and Little Red Riding Hood is saved from becoming the Big Bad Wolf ’s next meal by the brave woodsman with his sharp axe. In that retelling everything ends happily ever after. In the original, there is a far different and much darker outcome. It would be wise for you to keep that in mind over the next few weeks. You do not know me, but I know you. There are three of you. I have decided to call you:

Red One.

Red Two.

Red Three.

I know each of you is lost in the woods.

And just like the little girl in the fairy tale, you have been selected to die.

                                     * * *

BBW -- I'm going to call him that for the remainder of the review -- has an unwitting accomplice in his wife, Mrs. BBW, who's an administrative assistant to the dean of the school Jordan Ellis attends. She's also familiar with residents of the western Massachusetts area where all the Reds live and where BBW and Mrs. BBW live.

At first we're led to believe that the only thing the three women have in common is their red hair. As the narrative progresses, we quickly realize that each of the three has skills that come to the fore as they decide to act against BBW. But -- before they can plot against the plotter -- they have to meet each other. This occurs after BBW sends each woman a YouTube video that shows he knows where they can be found. 

That's his first mistake: He doesn't understand that with a computer -- and all three Reds are computer literate -- the women can ultimately contact each other, something BBW doesn't want. He wants them alone, lost in the woods, vulnerable.

 Once they discover each other, Karen, Sarah and Jordan display their resourcefulness to ferret out clues left by BBW. Since so much of the book is a spoiler, I won't go into the details. Katzenbach has written a first-rate thriller that will appeal to devotees of the genre.

John Katzenbach
John Katzenbach

About the Author

John Katzenbach has written twelve previous novels and one work of non-fiction. Three of his novels have been made into feature films: In the Heat of the Summer (adapted for the screen as The Mean Season), Hart's War starring Bruce Willis, and Just Cause starring Sean Connery. His other books include The New York Times bestseller The TravelerDay of Reckoning and The Shadow Man. Katzenbach was a criminal courts reporter for The Miami Herald and Miami News and a featured writer for the Herald'Tropic magazine. His most recent novel was the critically acclaimed What Comes Next. He lives in western Massachusetts. His website:


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