A solid thriller, with an intriguing dynamic between the lead investigator and the killer. Beware of evil hiding under the appearance of normality.
Thanks to Net Galley and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This novel ticks many of the boxes of successful thrillers: interesting and gruesome crimes (and a pretty bizarre serial killer), police procedural elements (and an investigating team easy to connect with and amusing at times), tension ticking (a girl has been taken by the 4MK [Four Monkey Killer] and she must be found before she dies), twists and turns (I suspect most avid readers of thrillers will guess some, at least, of them), red herrings… It is fairly long, although it keeps a good pace. If I missed anything, it was perhaps more psychological insight. And if we stop to think about it, the police force seems pretty ineffective but…
The story is told in chapters written in the third person from different points of view, mostly Porter’s (the lead investigator in the case although not fully back to work after some time off. We learn the reason later in the book) and Emory’s (the young victim), although there is the odd chapter from one of the other detective’s points of view, Clair. Interspersed with this we have fragments of the killer’s diary, which is found in the pocket of a man killed by a bus at the beginning of the book. The diary, that starts out pretty harmless, as the account of what seems to be a pretty normal childhood, gets creepier and creepier as it goes along and it provides an understanding (or justification of sorts) for the killer’s later behaviour (blood is thicker and all that, but there are also lies, secrets and betrayals. That is, if we are to believe the diary). That and other aspects of the book (and I don’t want to say much to avoid spoilers) including the cat-and-mouse chase, provide us with some interesting insights into the mind of the killer and emphasise the fact that appearances can be very deceptive. A seemingly normal middle-class family can hide all kinds of dirty secrets. And upper-class families can too, as becomes evident through the book. The revenge/avenging aspect of the murders (the sins of the fathers are visited…) is not new, although it makes the murderer more intriguing.
The other parts of the book help move the story forward and the events are set chronologically, from the moment Porter is awakened by a phone call that brings him back to the police, as he’s been chasing the 4MK Killer for over five years. Although Porter’s point of view dominates the novel, I did not feel we got to know him all that well. Yes, something has happened to him (I guessed what it was early on) and he is suffering and unwilling to openly acknowledge that or discuss it; he is not keen on gadgets and seems utterly out of touch with new technologies and social media, and he is determined and driven, putting himself at risk repeatedly for the good of others. But, although I liked the fact that the team of detectives investigating the case were pretty normal individuals (not corrupt, not twisted and bitter, even when it would be more than justified, not morally ambiguous psychopaths), I still missed having more of a sense of who Porter really is. Clair has little page space and I got no sense of her own personality, other than knowing that she cares for Porter and her colleagues and she has an amusing love/dislike relationship with Nash (who is the character that provides the light relief throughout the book). In the case of Emory, who finds herself in a terrifying situation, we get to share her experiences with her, and it is one of the most effective portions of the book, adding to the tension and the need to keep turning the pages.
The style of writing is direct, with only the necessary descriptions to allow us to follow the investigation (including descriptions of clues and places. I particularly enjoyed the idea of the tunnels from bootlegging times that help bring the setting’s history into the novel). The chronological storyline and the signposting of the different points of view, make it a story dynamic and easy to read, and although it is perhaps longer than the norm in the genre it is a fairly quick read.
As I said, there are plenty of twists and turns, enough to keep one’s mind busy, although I suspect avid readers of the genre will guess a few of them, if not all. I have read some of the comments disparaging the fact that the police seem to be pretty ineffective and they only get to rescue the victim thanks to the clues left by the killer. Indeed, that is so (in fairness, Porter, who seems the most clued-on of the team and the expert on this case, is battling personal issues of his own and not at his best) but, if anything, that further emphasises the relationship between Porter and the killer. What attracts the killer to Porter? The ending (oh, yes, very satisfying, although, of course, it creates intrigue for the next book in the series) highlights that issue even more. I get the feeling that this series will improve as it goes along but only time will tell.
In summary, a story of evil hiding in unexpected places, of secrets and lies that are covered by a thin veneer of normality, and a solid police procedural thriller, with a main character and a killer whose relationship holds the key to more mysteries to come. Ah, a word of warning. If you don’t like graphic violence and torture, you might want to give it a miss.