Excerpt from The Killing Lessons by Saul Black, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Killing Lessons

by Saul Black

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black X
The Killing Lessons by Saul Black
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2016, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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1

The instant Rowena Cooper stepped out of her warm, cookie-scented kitchen and saw the two men standing in her back hallway, snow melting from the rims of their boots, she knew exactly what this was: her own fault. Years of not locking doors and windows, of leaving the keys in the ignition, of not thinking anything like this was ever going to happen, years of feeling safe-it had all been a lie she'd been dumb enough to tell herself. Worse, a lie she'd been dumb enough to believe. Your whole life could turn out to be nothing but you waiting to meet your own giant stupidity. Because here she was, a mile from the nearest neighbor and three miles from town (Ellinson, Colorado; pop. 697), with a thirteen-year-old son upstairs and a ten-year-old daughter on the front porch and two men standing in her back hallway, one of them holding a shotgun, the other a long blade that even in the sheer drop of this moment made her think machete, though this was the first time she'd ever seen one outside the movies. The open door behind them showed heavy snow still hurrying down in the late afternoon, pretty against the dark curve of the forest. Christmas was five days away.

She had an overwhelming sense of the reality of her children. Josh lying on his unmade bed with his headphones on. Nell in her red North Face jacket standing, watching the snow, dreamily working her way through the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup she'd negotiated not ten minutes ago. It was as if there were an invisible nerve running from each of them to her, to her navel, her womb, her soul. This morning Nell had said: That guy Steven Tyler looks like a baboon. She came out with these pronouncements, apropos of nothing. Later, after breakfast, Rowena had overheard Josh say to Nell: Hey, see that? That's your brain. "That," Rowena had known, would be something like a cornflake or a booger. It was an ongoing competition between the two of them, to find small or unpleasant things and claim they were each other's brains. She thought what a great gift to her it was that her children not only loved but also cagily liked each other. She thought how full of great gifts her life was-while her body emptied and the space around her rushed her skin like a swarm of flies and she felt her dry mouth open, the scream coming ...

don't scream ...

if Josh keeps quiet and Nell stays ...

maybe just rape oh God ...

whatever they ...

the rifle ...

The rifle was locked in the cupboard under the stairs and the key was on the bunch in her purse and her purse was on the bedroom floor and the bedroom floor was a long, long way away.

All you have to do is get through this. Whatever it takes to-

But the larger of the men took three paces forward and in what felt to Rowena like slow-motion (she had time to smell stale sweat and wet leather and unwashed hair, to see the small dark eyes and big head, the pores around his nose) raised the butt of the shotgun and smashed it into her face.

* * *

Josh Cooper wasn't lying on his bed, but he did have his headphones on. He was sitting at his desk with the Squier Strat (used, eBay, $225, he'd had to put in the $50 his grandma sent for his birthday three months back to swing it with his mom) plugged into its practice amp, laboring through a YouTube tutorial-How to Play Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song"-while trying not to think about the porno clip he'd seen at Mike Wainwright's house three days ago, in which two women-an older redhead with green eyeshadow and a young blond girl who looked like Sarah Michelle Gellar-mechanically licked each other's private parts. Girl-girl sixty-nine, Mike had said crisply. In a minute, they go ass-to-ass. Josh hadn't a clue what "ass-to-ass" could possibly mean, but he knew, with thudding shame, that whatever it was, he wanted to see it. Mike Wainwright was a year older and knew everything about sex, and his parents were so vague and flaky, they hadn't gotten around to putting a parental control on his PC. Unlike Josh's own mom, who'd set one up as a condition of him even having a PC.

Excerpted from The Killing Lessons by Saul Black. Copyright © 2015 by Saul Black. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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