Unfortunately, this was unanimously the book club's least favourite book so far. No one could see why the book ranked so universally high in reviews on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads. Given the very high level of misogyny and violence and generally demeaning attitudes towards women (even O'Loughlin's wife), perhaps many of the reviewers were men, who were therefore approaching the book from a perspective that this book club couldn't?
The main issues that the book club faced with the book were disappointment that the execution fizzled out after a very promising start, a plot that had many holes,+ a lopsided use of details,* sawdust characters.#
The narrative lost a lot of its tension after its gripping start; although some of the technical details and information were interesting, it was also disappointing that the obvious person turned out in the end to be guilty. All of these factors put together meant that the set piece scenes too fell totally flat.
The most unsatisfying thing about the end to an unsatisfying book was the ease with which Gideon, the perpetrator of the many crimes that take up 70 chapters, is made to 'disappear'. Presumably, this is to leave the option open for his reappearance in subsequent books, but it does make this book seem pointless as a stand-alone narrative experience.
+ Fiction is about what ifs, and, occasionally, the author may require their readers to partially suspend their disbelief. But it was felt that it was too much to propose that someone who invaded other people's lives and homes and heads to such devastating effect would remain oblivious of his wife and child's presence in the very location which he had breached so many times in the past – without providing any more details as to why this attempt at hiding was more successful, when he already knew that the deaths had been faked.
On the one hand, there was a plethora of detail about Joseph O' Loughlin's academic background, and characters' physical descriptions, that simply petered out. (One presumes, that in a more carefully crafted novel, a psychologist would be both more self-aware, and capable of reading human beings more carefully than to play straight into the hands of a clever, sadistic criminal. The detail about Gideon being trained in interrogation techniques is one that could have been more directly linked to his state of mind, rather than being explicitly linked solely to his terrifying command of the techniques he uses.) On the other hand, seemingly small but noticeable details were left out, such as the apparently calm ignoring of the presence of a threatening pit bull by the police, or the omission of police protection for the family of a civilian principal investigator in a case involving a serial murderer with a penchant for victims whose profile they fitted perfectly.
# On the topic of sawdust characters: it was felt that the most memorable character was actually someone who was meant to have an important cameo (Ruiz); it was hard to summon empathy for, or interest in, any of the protagonists. Joseph O'Loughlin's Parkinson's seemed both to be a prop (a more twisted Holmes-style deerstalker or pipe, perhaps) that made him noticeable whilst also ticking off the presence of a token disabled person in the world of the book. (Veronica Cray arguably ticks the queer person box.) The language felt unnecessarily foul – being expletive-ridden didn't add to the narrative tension or provide insight into the characters.
The next title for discussion will be: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov