You Can't Stop Me
(2010) is the first of two novels by authors Max Allan Collins
and Matthew Clemens
that feature a small-town sheriff whose horrific personal tragedy propels him into the spotlight to become the host of a crime-stopping TV show. In the novel, years after the murder of his family, the sheriff can piece together exactly why and how they were killed—all on live television.
John Christian Harrow, known to everyone as J.C., spent many years as a small-town sheriff in Iowa. After that, he worked as a field agent and criminologist for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation. Now retired, he is suddenly recalled to duty during the Iowa State Fair—the President will be visiting, so all available hands need to be on deck. During the Fair, J.C. is monitoring the crowd when he spots a suspicious-looking man reaching into his pocket in a telltale way. Reacting instantly, J.C. neutralizes the would-be assassin, saving the President’s life and becoming a hero.
That night, however, his moment of triumph turns to tragedy. When he returns home, he finds his wife and son brutally murdered. The investigation into their deaths stalls and the killer remains at large.
Six years later, in the wake of the positive publicity and sympathy J.C. receives both because of his heroic actions and his terrible ordeal, the TV network UBC asks him to host “Crime Seen,” a show about unsolved crimes a la the real-life “America's Most Wanted.” J.C. is charming and photogenic, and the show is not only a hit but also leads to the capture of more than a dozen dangerous criminals.
One of the crimes profiled on the show intrigues a production associate—a woman murdered in Florida had her ring finger removed in the same way as J.C.’s wife, and what’s more, the Florida victims were also the family of a public servant. Digging further into the crime, the production team discovers that in the Florida evidence is a blade of corn grass that only grows in the Midwestern states.
Hoping this lead will enable him to finally figure out what happened to his family, J.C. talks his producer into letting him gather a team of experts to try to solve those murders. Quickly, the team of top-notch crime scene investigators and forensics experts figure out that J.C.’s wife and son are part of a series of more than fifty murders that have taken place over the past decade—all unsolved. The following chapters alternate the point of view of J.C.’s team with that of the killer, who is shown carrying out his gruesome actions over many years.
J.C.’s team nicknames the serial killer “The Messenger” as they realize that he is not simply killing at random, but using the murders he commits to transmit a code to the authorities. At the root, he wants his crimes to be solved. Readers complain, however, that we don’t learn much about who the people on J.C.’s team actually are beyond a few sketchily drawn stereotypes: a nerdy computer expert, a strong black woman cop, and an old tough guy with a shotgun.
When the producer dithers, J.C. hijacks the show’s live season finale to broadcast his team’s final actions. They have figured out that the murderer is Shelton Wilson, a small-town resident whose own family was killed, and who has blamed the government for their deaths ever since. Shelton never psychologically recovered from their deaths, and in his gradual insanity decided that killing the families of public employees was a way of evening the score. However, there was always method to his madness—many of those he killed had the last name Brown.
J.C. realizes that when Shelton’s family was killed, the town’s sheriff was Daniel Brown, a man who now heads a profitable real estate company. It turns out that when Brown was sheriff, he used that office to intimidate people into selling him their land below cost—and when intimidation failed, he used force to achieve the same thing. Shelton’s family was killed when this tactic went too far by accident.
Just as J.C. is about to confront Shelton, the killer takes one of UBC’s reporters hostage. J.C. is convinced that he can simply talk Shelton into letting her go in exchange for airing his story on TV, but the town’s new sheriff—one of Brown’s former deputies—orders a sharpshooter to take Shelton out before the interview can happen. The sheriff claims that he did this to save the reporter’s life, but it is clear he intentionally got rid of a witness who could have exposed Brown’s nefarious deeds.
The novel ends on a hopeful note as J.C.’s show is picked up for another season—he will continue to do his best to solve as many crimes as possible.