Book #64

Parabellum by Greg Hickey

A shooting at a Chicago beach leaves several dead and dozens injured. In the year before the attack, four individuals emerge as possible suspects.

An apathetic computer programmer.
An ex-college athlete with a history of head injuries.
An Army veteran turned Chicago cop.
A despondent high school student.

One of them is the shooter. Discover who and why.

Parabellum opens with a mass shooting on a Chicago beach; no build-up, no explanation, no vindication, just a mess of bodies and blood. We’re quickly shot a year into the past where we meet four unnamed individuals, each of them with differing battles and pain, and what follows is an in-depth character study of mental health, and what could possibly drive a person to such extremes.

Defining his four main characters only by their apparent roles in life - the ex-athlete, the programmer, the student, the veteran - is a masterstroke here, giving each of them an everyman quality, allowing us to interpret their thoughts and behaviour however we like, whilst also lending a slightly unsettling feeling of being detached, as though we’re looking at mere caricatures, or vessels with no need of a name.

As well as the multiple voice style allowing us into the minds of the four, a fifth voice chimes in haphazardly in italics, and seems to be the voice of the killer justifying their future actions. I found this interesting, as the tone of this voice changed each time, and could be attributed to any of the four depending on which passage you read.

For a crime novel, there was a distinct lack of tension, which I put down to the novel being a character study rather than a plot driven thriller. I did feel that some of the vignettes jumped back and forward in time, and could have benefited from being placed chronologically to allow us to see declines and build some uncertainty and suspense.

I did also get a bit bogged down in the parts where Hickey liked to go into the minutiae of things which simply didn’t lend much to engagement, such as the tiny specifics of how to dismantle a gun, or each exact moment in a football game. This added a bit of labour for me, and I found myself scanning through without losing much of importance. I doubt this would niggle all readers, though; it’s a matter of preference, and some do adore the detail. 

Altogether, this was a really fascinating exploration of the human mind and the factors which can influence it. There’s some good commentary on the nature vs nurture debate, on physical as well as mental trauma, and on the importance of relationships. Despite Hickey’s astute analysis, it’s sad we may never come to understand or prevent these types of tragedies.

This novel will be released in October 2020; before then, you can download the opening scene and access an exclusive pre-release discount at