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Killer on the Road

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Martin Michael Plunkett is a product of his times -- the possessor of a genius intellect, a pitiless soul of brushed steel, and a heart of blackest evil. With criminal tendencies forged in the fires of L.A.'s Charles Manson hysteria, he comes to the bay city of San Francisco -- and submits to savage and terrible impulses that reveal to him his true vocation as a pure and p Martin Michael Plunkett is a product of his times -- the possessor of a genius intellect, a pitiless soul of brushed steel, and a heart of blackest evil. With criminal tendencies forged in the fires of L.A.'s Charles Manson hysteria, he comes to the bay city of San Francisco -- and submits to savage and terrible impulses that reveal to him his true vocation as a pure and perfect murderer. And so begins his decade of discovery and terror, as he cuts a bloody swath across the full length of a land, ingeniously exploiting and feeding upon a society's obsessions. As he maneuvers deftly through a seamy world of drugs, flesh, and perversions, the media will call him many things -- but Martin Plunkett's real name is Death. His brilliant, twisted mind is a horriying place to explore. His madness reflects a nation's own. The killer is on the road. And there's nowhere in America to hide.


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Martin Michael Plunkett is a product of his times -- the possessor of a genius intellect, a pitiless soul of brushed steel, and a heart of blackest evil. With criminal tendencies forged in the fires of L.A.'s Charles Manson hysteria, he comes to the bay city of San Francisco -- and submits to savage and terrible impulses that reveal to him his true vocation as a pure and p Martin Michael Plunkett is a product of his times -- the possessor of a genius intellect, a pitiless soul of brushed steel, and a heart of blackest evil. With criminal tendencies forged in the fires of L.A.'s Charles Manson hysteria, he comes to the bay city of San Francisco -- and submits to savage and terrible impulses that reveal to him his true vocation as a pure and perfect murderer. And so begins his decade of discovery and terror, as he cuts a bloody swath across the full length of a land, ingeniously exploiting and feeding upon a society's obsessions. As he maneuvers deftly through a seamy world of drugs, flesh, and perversions, the media will call him many things -- but Martin Plunkett's real name is Death. His brilliant, twisted mind is a horriying place to explore. His madness reflects a nation's own. The killer is on the road. And there's nowhere in America to hide.

30 review for Killer on the Road

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hugh McBride

    Surprised to be giving an Ellroy novel anything less than four stars, but this one just didn't do it for me. An early work that is written primarily as a first-person recounting of a serial killer's cross-country reign of terror, "Killer on the Road" shows flashes of Ellroy's later greatness, but suffers from a plot that substitutes gore for suspense. The events portrayed in this novel are harrowing -- and the narrator's lack of remorse is chilling -- but the novel fails to bridge the disconnect Surprised to be giving an Ellroy novel anything less than four stars, but this one just didn't do it for me. An early work that is written primarily as a first-person recounting of a serial killer's cross-country reign of terror, "Killer on the Road" shows flashes of Ellroy's later greatness, but suffers from a plot that substitutes gore for suspense. The events portrayed in this novel are harrowing -- and the narrator's lack of remorse is chilling -- but the novel fails to bridge the disconnect that exists between the narrator's thoughts & deeds. In the end, the reader is left feeling similarly disconnected -- not in an "inside the killer's head" way, but in an "I just don't much care about the people in this novel" way.

  2. 4 out of 5

    RB

    "Killer on the Road" is possibly James Ellroy's best book, one that's sadly overlooked, forgotten, written off as "just an early work", and not a novel to attach as much admiration to as his larger, multi-narrative novels. A fuller version of a review of sorts will appear soon. "Killer on the Road" is possibly James Ellroy's best book, one that's sadly overlooked, forgotten, written off as "just an early work", and not a novel to attach as much admiration to as his larger, multi-narrative novels. A fuller version of a review of sorts will appear soon.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emil Arvas

    This is an early Ellroy book told from the killer's point of view. It is funny at times and uncanny at others. Ellroy alternates between the first person narrative and police reports and newspaper articles. This form doesn't really do it for me a) because it doesn't do much for the flow of the plot, b) because Ellroy seems clueless as to what journalistic prose looks like. I read this in Sweden in 2021, so my knowledge of local journalism in the U.S. in the 70's and 80's is slim to none, but I'm This is an early Ellroy book told from the killer's point of view. It is funny at times and uncanny at others. Ellroy alternates between the first person narrative and police reports and newspaper articles. This form doesn't really do it for me a) because it doesn't do much for the flow of the plot, b) because Ellroy seems clueless as to what journalistic prose looks like. I read this in Sweden in 2021, so my knowledge of local journalism in the U.S. in the 70's and 80's is slim to none, but I'm pretty sure journalists didn't joke about victims like this. They say that serial killers ruined the crime novel. To Ellroy's credit, Killer on the Road was written in 1986, when this was a new phenomenon. However, if Ellroys purpose was to portray the mind of a serial killer, he doesn't really succeed. Psychologically speaking, it's not a very penetrating portrait. But still an enthralling read!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Wilder

    Here is where Ellroy’s literary pretensions—I mean, ambitions begin. The book is still short and unsweet, like Ellroy’s earlier novels; but the effort to create a leviathan pulp narrative that will sum up his American moment begins here. In truth, KILLER is more abstract and existential than it is period-specific; Ellroy twists Dostoevskyan dread into underground, kudzu-curling homoerotic knots. There is a ghastly old-school Freudianism at work here, gnarled into shapes that, at novel’s end, you Here is where Ellroy’s literary pretensions—I mean, ambitions begin. The book is still short and unsweet, like Ellroy’s earlier novels; but the effort to create a leviathan pulp narrative that will sum up his American moment begins here. In truth, KILLER is more abstract and existential than it is period-specific; Ellroy twists Dostoevskyan dread into underground, kudzu-curling homoerotic knots. There is a ghastly old-school Freudianism at work here, gnarled into shapes that, at novel’s end, you won’t want to think about. KILLER has a number of similarities to Bret Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO, though not its second-by-second physical terror; Ellroy is more interested in ideas than sensations or experiences. Is it as strong as Ellroy’s quartet of massive postwar potboilers? No; but as first person psycho narratives go, it sure is a dilly!

  5. 4 out of 5

    James

    Transitional piece by Ellroy as he moves from the early promise of "Clandestine" through the Lloyd Hopkins trilogy to the beginning of the great L.A. Quartet - "The Black Dahlia". Also known as "Silent Terror", this portrait of a serial killer is curiously flat and detached, with excessive violence but no real suspense or, and this is worse, style. I read it to be an Ellroy completist, and have no real wish to revisit it. Transitional piece by Ellroy as he moves from the early promise of "Clandestine" through the Lloyd Hopkins trilogy to the beginning of the great L.A. Quartet - "The Black Dahlia". Also known as "Silent Terror", this portrait of a serial killer is curiously flat and detached, with excessive violence but no real suspense or, and this is worse, style. I read it to be an Ellroy completist, and have no real wish to revisit it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    My brother gave this book to me for Christmas, and to be honest, I was a little bit hesitant to start reading it. Not because I thought it would be bad. On the contrary, all of my siblings are creative, intelligent and insightful people, and I would trust any of their reading recommendations without a moment's hesitation. I just can't always promise that I'll like what they recommend. The book my brother gave me before that was Narcissus and Goldemund by Hermann Hesse. It wasn't a bad book, real My brother gave this book to me for Christmas, and to be honest, I was a little bit hesitant to start reading it. Not because I thought it would be bad. On the contrary, all of my siblings are creative, intelligent and insightful people, and I would trust any of their reading recommendations without a moment's hesitation. I just can't always promise that I'll like what they recommend. The book my brother gave me before that was Narcissus and Goldemund by Hermann Hesse. It wasn't a bad book, really.... it's just that I hated the main character Goldemund with a white hot passion and wished grave misfortune on him for the entire book. In fact, the main thing that kept me reading the book was the hope that he'd eventually fall down a dry well and break his legs, or perhaps get hit in the head by a two-by-four and live the rest of his life as a drooling moron. That the book aroused such great passion in me is a testament to the author's skills, although I don't think that was quite his goal. Let's just say that there were a few unpleasantly familiar themes that made it hard for me to be and objective judge of his actions. Anyway, I figure my brother couldn't have known that, so I don't blame him. This book, however, more than makes up. Killer on the Road is a book about a serial killer. Now I know what you're thinking - the serial killer angle has been done to death (HAR!). There are serial killers in all kinds of airport novels, comic books, movies, and TV shows. It would seem like there’s really no new way that you can do a serial killer, other than to have him use more and more horrifying means to kill people, and that’s all just flash. But trust me, even if you’re feeling a bit worn-out on serial killer fiction, I think you'll want to read this one. The standard portrayal of a serial killer in most modern literature is that of a cipher - we don't know why he does what he does, and we don't really care. The recent TV drama “Dexter” is an interesting exception, of course, although if I were a gambling man, I would suppose that show owes something of its origin to this book. The traditional serial killer is a monster to be hunted down and destroyed. Even when serial killer characters are handled well, they're still just foils against which we can play the police characters. Where the killer is a hyper-intellectual, the cop’s street knowledge and common sense will prevail. The twisted perversity of the murderer helps play up the straight morality of the cop – and society as a whole, by extension. Ultimately, of course, we just enjoy the chase in the sure and certain knowledge that we'll see the Bad Guy in jail by the end of it. In this book, the Bad Guy is in jail from the first page. Already, the author has taken away that carrot, and so we have to readjust our expectations a bit. Martin Plunkett is a serial killer. Over the course of a decade, he murders nearly 70 people across America until he is finally caught in New York. This book is his story, and his explanation of why he did what he did. Ellroy obviously did a whole lot of research for this book, probably both from the law enforcement side of serial killing and the psychological side. There would be no way to write the character of Plunkett as thoroughly, convincingly and - to a point - sympathetically as he did. Make no mistake, Martin Plunkett is a monster. He kills without hesitation or remorse, and he does it to satisfy urges that normal people shouldn't have. But at the same time, he is a human being. For all that his moral scale has been skewed waaaaaay off to the bad side, he still has worries, hopes and dreams. We get to see him grow up from childhood. He meets the circumstances and makes the choices that all eventually lead him to his vocation as serial killer. He didn't just wake up one day and start killing, any more than I woke up one morning and started teaching English. There is a chain there, a somewhat logical series of events that he follows willingly. Once he gets going, the murders become defining moments of his life, rather than simply the horrible acts of a madman. The story isn't about the dead. It's about the killer. In the end, what made Plunkett what he was? That is, after all, what the book is ostensibly trying to figure out, and it’s the question we always ask when we see something on the news that horrifies us. We want there to be a reason for such terrible things, because if there’s a reason for a problem, then the problem can be fixed. If we know that violence arises from factors X, Y, and Z, then all we have to do is correct for those things and it’ll be done. Right? The answer is.... we don't know. Was he a frustrated misanthrope, trying to get revenge on the world? Kind of. Was he an abused child who had no other way of expressing his childhood traumas? Sort of. Was he an avatar of true Evil, spawned by our corrupt and decaying culture? Maybe. It doesn't matter to Plunkett, and therefore it doesn't matter to us. He is what he is, and there's no getting around that. Ellroy could be warning us against trying to find such simple explanations for terrifying things. That in our search for order, there will always be the anomalies that simply cannot be fixed. There will always be people like Plunkett out there, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. In that way, he’s defying the expectations of serial killer fiction – the killer will never truly be understood and will never truly be caught. He’s always out there somewhere, even if the Plunketts of the world are in jail. There will always be a killer on the road somewhere…

  7. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I'm used to James Ellroy novels being fairly dark and depraved, but Killer on the Road hit a new level. Following the exploits of a young serial killer from his formative years through his capture (which isn't a spoiler, it's the first chapter), this was hard to read at many moments. While I would say the novel is somewhat lacking in narrative momentum, it still completely held my attention throughout. And certain moments were truly fascinating, albeit in a very macabre way. I haven't read all o I'm used to James Ellroy novels being fairly dark and depraved, but Killer on the Road hit a new level. Following the exploits of a young serial killer from his formative years through his capture (which isn't a spoiler, it's the first chapter), this was hard to read at many moments. While I would say the novel is somewhat lacking in narrative momentum, it still completely held my attention throughout. And certain moments were truly fascinating, albeit in a very macabre way. I haven't read all of Ellroy's works yet, but I still get a feeling that this one will stand out as something very unique once I have finished them all.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ed [Redacted]

    This is my second time through this book and I think I agree with my earlier four star rating, though in retrospect it may have dropped a half of a star or so (I'm sure Mr. Ellroy will lose a lot of sleep over this). This is the best of Ellroy's early books that I have read. Though serial killer fiction is well past overdone now, it was pretty cutting edge when Killer on the Road was written. It is a chilling book that captures your attention and fixes it on something, and someone, very ugly. Thi This is my second time through this book and I think I agree with my earlier four star rating, though in retrospect it may have dropped a half of a star or so (I'm sure Mr. Ellroy will lose a lot of sleep over this). This is the best of Ellroy's early books that I have read. Though serial killer fiction is well past overdone now, it was pretty cutting edge when Killer on the Road was written. It is a chilling book that captures your attention and fixes it on something, and someone, very ugly. This is a fairly graphic book, though nothing like the brutal violence of The Big Nowhere (in the eyesockets? Is that even possible?) For those who demand books that don't involve dog murder, there is a fairly graphic example early on in this one. (You were warned Melki)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    Wickedly evil, yet strangely compelling - Ellroy proves he can even keep you reading when the main character is a serial killer. I suppose you could compare it to "American Psycho", but it stands on it's own as a chilling diary of a mass-murderer. Wickedly evil, yet strangely compelling - Ellroy proves he can even keep you reading when the main character is a serial killer. I suppose you could compare it to "American Psycho", but it stands on it's own as a chilling diary of a mass-murderer.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    What's so creepy about this book is that, by having the serial killer as the narrator, it asks you to empathize with/root for a sociopath. I can't hear the words "head movies" without visible cringing. What's so creepy about this book is that, by having the serial killer as the narrator, it asks you to empathize with/root for a sociopath. I can't hear the words "head movies" without visible cringing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John

    Think, Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer meets Forrest Gump. We take in the 60's through the early 80's through a psycho's perspective. There is some other stuff about obsession and killing--typical of Ellroy. The psychology stuff is neat. Think, Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer meets Forrest Gump. We take in the 60's through the early 80's through a psycho's perspective. There is some other stuff about obsession and killing--typical of Ellroy. The psychology stuff is neat.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Matthew (M.G.) Allen

    The best serial killer book ever. Creeps along the protag's psychological spook-scape more than it shocks with gore. Freaked me the f out in the most loving way possible. The best serial killer book ever. Creeps along the protag's psychological spook-scape more than it shocks with gore. Freaked me the f out in the most loving way possible.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jens Rushing

    A killer! The road! This book has it all.

  14. 5 out of 5

    R.K. Cowles

    3 1/4 stars

  15. 4 out of 5

    L.P. Ring

    An early Ellroy (1986), 'Killer on the Road' follows a relatively linear narrative detailing the life of a serial killer travelling east across America from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. It's told primarily through the killer's own point of view although newspaper clippings and a chief detective's diary are included to add authenticity / other points of view to the story. Michael Plunkett comes from a broken home. Brought up by his heavily medicated mother, he finds himself an outcast at An early Ellroy (1986), 'Killer on the Road' follows a relatively linear narrative detailing the life of a serial killer travelling east across America from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. It's told primarily through the killer's own point of view although newspaper clippings and a chief detective's diary are included to add authenticity / other points of view to the story. Michael Plunkett comes from a broken home. Brought up by his heavily medicated mother, he finds himself an outcast at school and barely tolerated by teachers. Starting as a peeping tom, Michael finds a way into simple burglaries and from there realises that he has far darker urges than simply watching people or engaging in petty larceny. The first person narration really brings you close to the killer and some of the descriptions are reminiscent of Bret Ellis's later American Psycho in their detail. The development of the killer is told in often very stark terms although at the same time it is possible to relate somewhat to Plunkett in how confusing his life was and continues to be. With a little Charlie Manson thrown in to add some spice to the mix, 'Killer on the Road' probably isn't the most ambitious Ellroy you'll ever read, but it is a fascinating look into the development of a killer.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cathi

    Robert Ressler gave a name to a phenomena known the world over, one that has been and will continue to be dissected likely until the last human being breathes their last. Serial Killer cannot be mentioned without bold typeface headlines swimming across the memories of most, names of what some consider pure evil forever emblazoned on the psyche of those outside their world. James Ellroy dives into just such a world with his fictitious account of Martin Plunkett, a fractured man who, through sheer Robert Ressler gave a name to a phenomena known the world over, one that has been and will continue to be dissected likely until the last human being breathes their last. Serial Killer cannot be mentioned without bold typeface headlines swimming across the memories of most, names of what some consider pure evil forever emblazoned on the psyche of those outside their world. James Ellroy dives into just such a world with his fictitious account of Martin Plunkett, a fractured man who, through sheer will, molds himself into exactly what he wants to be: terror. Filled with grit and literary viscera, the tale of a boy turned unexplained force of nature unfolds. Ellroy doesn't linger on grizzly physical details, but flays open the mind of his character for the reader to consume. Even when the center of Plunkett's world threatens to not hold, the reader is left with a sense that he will make good on his promise: "In some dark form, I will continue." Recommended for crime novel, mystery, and noir enthusiasts.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    One of Ellroy's earlier works, it is interesting to see seeds of how he will construct his later, and much loved, stories. This one does not yet adopt much of the short staccato-like sentences, but does include snippets from fake newspapers and reports, and also shows his love for linking his stories to historical events and persons. There is little real mystery or joy here, as it is basically a story of a serial killer in his own words, interesting enough though it may turn off many readers). S One of Ellroy's earlier works, it is interesting to see seeds of how he will construct his later, and much loved, stories. This one does not yet adopt much of the short staccato-like sentences, but does include snippets from fake newspapers and reports, and also shows his love for linking his stories to historical events and persons. There is little real mystery or joy here, as it is basically a story of a serial killer in his own words, interesting enough though it may turn off many readers). Some say that earlier portions of the book reflects some of Ellroy's own youthful indiscretions, though certainly not the murder parts, and at least some research into the mind of these types of killers. Scary.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erick Mertz

    This book took off like a bolt of lightning in the opening chapters. I was wrapped up in how the character constructed his psychotic orientation, developed strategies, made relationships and worked around the law. I would have given this book 5-Stars at page 100... Then it got... clever? It got a little too complicated with the author bringing new threads into the mix. Obviously, the story had to evolve from the interior inventory of a serial killer, but the beginning was so strong, I never wante This book took off like a bolt of lightning in the opening chapters. I was wrapped up in how the character constructed his psychotic orientation, developed strategies, made relationships and worked around the law. I would have given this book 5-Stars at page 100... Then it got... clever? It got a little too complicated with the author bringing new threads into the mix. Obviously, the story had to evolve from the interior inventory of a serial killer, but the beginning was so strong, I never wanted to leave that series of thoughts/feelings. If you like Ellroy, this is fits your wheelhouse. It's not the American Tabloid Series, but it has a place in his crime canon. This would not be the place to start with the author though.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Mayo

    I won't say I liked this. It held my interest. It is the story of a serial killer from his early childhood to his serving multiple life sentences. Charles Manson, as a character, makes brief appearances before and after he was in prison, so the time frame of this is from the early 60's to the early 80's. I think the author went for graphic violence over suspense, and while I am not opposed to that, per se, here it felt contrived. The gore, which grows worse throughout, doesn't drive the plot at I won't say I liked this. It held my interest. It is the story of a serial killer from his early childhood to his serving multiple life sentences. Charles Manson, as a character, makes brief appearances before and after he was in prison, so the time frame of this is from the early 60's to the early 80's. I think the author went for graphic violence over suspense, and while I am not opposed to that, per se, here it felt contrived. The gore, which grows worse throughout, doesn't drive the plot at all. The ending was unsatisfactory, but in a book about the life of a serial killer, there really is no satisfactory end to it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alton

    Though I have seen some of Jame's Ellroy's books in movie form this is the first of his novels I have read. This novel is probably not what Ellroy is best known for - his narrator is the serial killer Martin Plunkett who tells us of how he becomes the murderer who then proceeds across the US on a road trip littered with bodies. The language is at times campy, especially in it's attempt to capture the period of the 60s and 70s. Those fascinated by the mind and mental makeup of the serial killer m Though I have seen some of Jame's Ellroy's books in movie form this is the first of his novels I have read. This novel is probably not what Ellroy is best known for - his narrator is the serial killer Martin Plunkett who tells us of how he becomes the murderer who then proceeds across the US on a road trip littered with bodies. The language is at times campy, especially in it's attempt to capture the period of the 60s and 70s. Those fascinated by the mind and mental makeup of the serial killer may find this enjoyable... I was just glad to reach the end of a bad trip.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joel Schultze

    I've had the Underworld Trilogy sitting on my "to-read" shelf for a few years now. I just can't seem to commit to an 1800 page trilogy when I have so much else to choose from. It's probably been 20 years since I read The Black Dahlia and was turned on to Ellroy's style. I picked up Killer on the Road at a used bookstore a few years ago and thought I'd try a smaller Ellroy endeavor before committing to tackling the Underworld Trilogy. Killer on the Road is your typical Ellroy- phrenetic pace, mix I've had the Underworld Trilogy sitting on my "to-read" shelf for a few years now. I just can't seem to commit to an 1800 page trilogy when I have so much else to choose from. It's probably been 20 years since I read The Black Dahlia and was turned on to Ellroy's style. I picked up Killer on the Road at a used bookstore a few years ago and thought I'd try a smaller Ellroy endeavor before committing to tackling the Underworld Trilogy. Killer on the Road is your typical Ellroy- phrenetic pace, mixes facts with fiction, utterly dark and uber violent. Not for the faint of heart.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    A nasty and short serial killer novel. The ending at the house in Croton is total high octane nightmare fuel. This is early Ellroy so it lacks the hip jazzy rhythm of his later works and also the complexity. Even though it is a short read, you may need breaks to come up for air from all the violent and disturbing imagery.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Roland Marchal

    Its about a psycho who goes from state to state hearing comic book characters and killing unsuspecting blond people. It moves along ok but the absurdities eventually outweigh its entertainment value. Gave up three quarters through having skimmed quite a bit of that. If you made it into a film you could call it Pulp Fiction.

  24. 5 out of 5

    James

    This is a hard book to rate- it’s well written, but is overly packed with gore, sadism, and filth. In the end, the book and story never really justify their existence so I’m going with a not recommended with this one.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Greg Jolley

    I agree with Jonathan Kellerman, this is also the scariest book I've ever read. Brilliant and brave writing, as always, from James Ellroy. I agree with Jonathan Kellerman, this is also the scariest book I've ever read. Brilliant and brave writing, as always, from James Ellroy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Theodore Kinni

    Early Ellroy--a pretty brutal, first person portrait of a serial killer that was retitled and republished after he hit it big. It's skipable. Early Ellroy--a pretty brutal, first person portrait of a serial killer that was retitled and republished after he hit it big. It's skipable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marko

    I have two different english editions: - Killer on the road - Silent terror

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nicky Billou

    A great, if deeply disturbing, book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matt S

    Frightening

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sean Kottke

    Perfect trashy vacation read, from a master of trashy literary fiction. An early Ellroy that experiments with lots of styles, including exuberant tabloid purple prose.

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