Sunday, 8 January 2012
Book Review: "Unlikely Killer" by Ricki Thomas
"Usually a serial killer will have a modus operandi that can lead to their capture. This one is breaking all the rules.
It takes a journalist's keen eye to grasp the terrifying truth. This killer is recreating infamous murders from history. Despite researching historical murders in an attempt to catch the killer in the act, the police are repeatedly outwitted. With the Jack the Ripper murders next on the agenda, a bloodbath seems inevitable.
With the clock ticking and the killer becoming increasingly frenzied, a detective and criminal psychologist join forces to stop this unlikely killer."
There is an exciting premise at the heart of this book which drew me in completely: an elusive serial killer recreating famous murders from the past, while eluding police capture. It had the potential of being innovative, tense, insightful and memorable.
Ricki Thomas had clearly researched exhaustively prior to writing the book: she writes with confidence and credibility about the possible mental illnesses which could be contributing to her killer's behaviour. She also accurately depicts the methods of the police operation used to hunt the killer down. But thorough as the research was I felt at many points that it hampered the narrative: many of the details of the investigation (including the politics within the police station) seemed to achieve a high level of verisimilitude at the cost of the pace of the story. The mid-book section where the Psychiatrist Miss Kumar debates at length over whether the killer is suffering from schizophrenia or psychosis is unnecessary to the plot, and the mid-sections felt as though they struggled.
There seemed to be no focal character or characters to drive the story. Killer, victims (and there were many of these), witnesses, Victims' families, police officers of all ranks and relevance, the detective's family; all had airtime as the "in-head" character and again this slowed the plot. None of the characters really developed, and suspense failed to build owing to the fact that the story head-hopped so much. Although the blunders and false leads experienced by the police were relevant I thought the troupe of characters could have been pared down to keep the story moving: The middle-manager MacReavie was totally irrelevant to the plot and to the surrounding characters.
With no character development in evidence, Thomas resorts to cliches to build cheap sentiment as opposed to genuine sympathy: the ridiculous number of birthdays/anniversaries in Annabel's house when she goes missing; the involvement of Krein's daughter in the denoument.
The strong premise at the heart of this book never really got off the ground. Most of the murders take place outside the scope of the central idea and I felt as though the murders that did take place under this premise contributed nothing to the psychology of the murderer: although he chose dates, places and victims carefully, he seemed to be too willing to compromise on fairly major details of the crimes and this detracted from the impression of obsessive behaviour the narrative was trying to create.
The big reveal of the killer's identity was lost on me, as I had guessed who the killer was just before the halfway stage of the book. While not exactly obvious, if you put the book down for five minutes and think about what you know of the characters there really is only one candidate. Once I had figured out the identity of the killer a great deal of suspense building was lost on me, and the contrived finale involving the detective's daughter fell completely flat.
The sentence structure throughout the book was often clumsy and there were many occasions where an incorrect word was used which meant the author's meaning was not accurately conveyed. This was distracting. I was also puzzled as to why two Italian characters had been given Spanish names. The handles "Kopycat Killer" and "Black Museum Bunch" felt like something out of Scooby Doo and the book contained a distressing number of greengrocer's apostrophes.
Ultimately this book is too haphazard to succeed in its aims. There was little cohesion throughout, the plot struggled and the characters were limp. Although the premise was exciting, it never really delivered.