A memorable debut thriller (4 stars)
Source- review copy- via Netgalley
Due for publication by Penguin UK, 8th May 2014
I read the Kindle edition. The paperback is 364 pages
The crime and thriller genre is something I read very often and the market is positively saturated with titles- some of which appear all very same-same on the surface. What appealed to me the most about this book was its premise, which sounded positively compelling- and very original- from the outset.
A young couple wake up alone and disorientated; they are trapped in the darkness with no food or water, no clue of where they are. The only things joining them in their confinement are a mobile phone with a low battery- and a gun. Chillingly a message is delivered: “one of you kills the other, the survivor will walk free.” And so begins the nightmarish pattern of a series of abductions across the South of England- meticulously planned and always with its victims in pairs. A new breed of serial killer is at work- elusive, smart and with seemingly no qualms about whom they will target next. DI Helen Grace is determined to catch the suspect, but with nothing seemingly connecting the victims and no obvious motive, time is running out…
Phew. What. A. Read. And an unputdownable one at that. M.J Arlidge is a talent to look out for and if this is a debut, then I’m keen to see what they come up with next. Psychologically speaking, this book really makes you consider how you yourself could cope in a similar situation, and more to the point who on earth could do something like this- and why. The serial killer is completely sadistic, but in turning their victims against one another appears to be stepping back from their own responsibility in the crime. It was frightening yet thought-provoking.
DI Helen Grace is a very interesting protagonist with lots of facets to her personality, which were slowly unveiled throughout the plot. Commanding, brave and tough on the face of it, she demands respect from her colleagues yet appears to be a loner with some big secrets of her own. Despite her hardness on the surface, she also demonstrated loyalty and consideration for the people she cared about, going the extra mile to ensure justice was done and admitting when she made mistakes. I enjoyed getting to know her and it was fascinating to try and understand what drove her as a detective and comprehend all of her flaws. The secondary characters too, were well-drawn and their varying interactions with Helen were vividly portrayed. The victims were all given a voice and their own distinct personalities- not merely being characterised as bodies or corpses. As a reader you feel empathy and horror at what they are being put through and you want this killer to be caught.
The book has lots of twists and turns, backstabbing and betrayal and definitely had me hooked. I think my only complaint with it is that towards the end of a book it took on some new directions that I hadn’t necessarily expected and a lot of the action felt condensed into this final part of the storyline and perhaps a teeny bit contrived. Not rushed, per se- just a bit like the author had tried to squeeze a lot of loose ends in to make sure that everything adequately made sense. It felt a bit perhaps ‘over-explained’ and more ‘tell’ not show, which hadn’t been the case up until then. That aside, it certainly does pose some interesting questions about Helen’s own past and what it may mean for her future, particularly as a police detective.
Though the bearing of the Netgalley formatting doesn’t play any part in the quality of the story itself either, unfortunately it was abysmal in places— with no line spacing and characters POV’s and settings inexplicably changing mid page- sometimes mid paragraph. I would hope that this is not the case when this is actually released on Kindle, as it did make for some interesting misunderstandings and some degree of confusion when I was reading it!
Ultimately this was an exciting, pacey story that held my attention throughout, despite some of the grittiness and the gore which was admittedly a tad overpowering in places. M.J. Arlidge is definitely an author I will be watching out for in future and this is a novel that I can heartily recommend to fans of Peter James- particularly those of his Roy Grace detective series.