Michael Kronenwetter’s mystery novel First Kill
(2005) follows a trio of high school friends, who find themselves estranged and then reunited by a sudden death. The protagonists, Jack Drucker, Elizabeth Kermanski, and Hank Berlin, were all great friends, despite an unspoken tension between Jack and Hank around a shared love for Elizabeth. After being estranged for several years, Hank finds himself involved in Jack and Elizabeth's marriage when Jack is found dead in his car on an empty suburban street. Hank, now a private investigator, takes on Elizabeth's case; he is forced to confront his own romantic feelings for the widow and the wrath of the person who killed his former best friend.
The novel opens with the backstory of Jack, Elizabeth, and Hank. The trio is known around their high school for their close bond and silly antics. Jack and Hank, who have been best friends since elementary school, share a common love: Elizabeth Kermanski. In high school, Hank realizes that Jack is winning the race they have both been running for more than a decade. He bows out, allowing Jack and Elizabeth to start a relationship, though it slightly strains their friendship.
Further estrangement occurs after high school when Jack decides to enlist in the army to fight in the Vietnam War. Hank, who is adamantly opposed to the war, burns his draft card in protest and flees to Canada, where he is then barred from returning to the United States. The contentious situation breaks the friendship, and Elizabeth, following her husband's lead, never speaks to Hank again. Not until many years later, when President Carter grants amnesty to ex-pats who fled the draft, does Hank return home to the small town the trio shares.
Hank returns home and sets up a small private investigation office, where he works on small cases—mostly affairs and minor crimes. He doesn't see Elizabeth again until the news gets out that Jack has been murdered in cold blood. Since returning home from the war, Jack had been working as a reporter for his father's newspaper, where he was known for getting the best and most surprising stories. Now, he is found murdered in the front seat of his car on an abandoned street. Nobody knows who killed him, or why he was a target.
Elizabeth comes to Hank to ask him to take on her husband's case. She is less interested in who did this to Jack—the primary focus of the police investigation—and more interested in why
her husband was murdered. Hank's residual feelings for Elizabeth spur him to take the case. He soon discovers that Jack's newspaper reporting might have unveiled some deep secrets in the closets of powerful men.
Hank, whose bullish nature makes him an excellent investigator, tracks down evidence leading to a big city crime boss with connections in the small town of Pinery Falls, where Jack was killed. However, his investigation leads him down the same dangerous path that Jack followed, and soon Hanks' life is also in danger.
Wisconsin-based writer Michael Kronenwetter has written many books, primarily reference texts and books for young adult audiences. Some of his titles include Prejudice in America
, United They Hate: White Supremacist Groups in America
, and Free Press V. Fair Trial: Television and Other Media in the Courtroom. First Kill
is his debut novel for adults.