A serial killer is at work in London, killing women and, post mortem, making them look like someone else via make-up, hair dye, etc. Convinced the police are not capable of finding the murderer, a small group of online true-crime investigators band together to catch “The Lover”. Clementine Stark is desperate to join the group, not least to find evidence to prove her academic thesis that such detection is possible. But Clementine has secrets from her past that she is desperate to keep hidden.
Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Dominic Bell leads the official investigation which is moving forward too slowly, hampered in part due to an ongoing internal affairs investigation into a long-term undercover operation that went badly wrong. Eventually, Bell and Clementine cross paths but will they find themselves on the same side of the investigation? And will it be soon enough to catch the Lover before he strikes again? And again?
Time for an occasional step outside the Golden Age and into modern crime writing. I’ll admit, this wasn’t the book I first picked up, but on reading You Die Next, I rapidly realised that this one preceded it – as it was pretty cheap as an ebook, I thought I’d take a step back and read this one instead, in case of spoilers in the second book.
One Goodreads review states that there are no significant plot spoilers in the second one, but I’d be surprised if that was the case. This is clearly written as the start of an ongoing series, with mysteries in both Clementine’s and Bell’s back stories, neither of which is resolved here. While Clementine’s back story comes to a natural break, I did feel that Bell’s tale didn’t – his tale has more of a direct impact on the modern day narrative and, I felt, needed something more tangible to put it on hold until book two.
The stories had me intrigued – I don’t mind investing in a series of books and seeing the backstory play out over several novels – but given the page count given to Bell’s story in particular, I can see a standalone reader feeling a little frustrated with that strand, so be warned.
As for the modern day tale, it’s a gripping thriller. Clementine’s association with the true crime group works very well as a structure for the story and there’s a more intelligent use of social media than I’ve seen before in crime fiction. The tension builds nicely and while the reader is supposed to be looking one way for the identity of the Lover, I felt the real identity could have been clued a little more clearly. There is a moment of “I should have realised because…”, which is more than you often get, but it’s not really a clue. But then I’m looking for Golden Age structure in modern thrillers – that structure not being there isn’t an issue provided you know accept that going in.
Anything else? Well, I’ll definitely be back in the New Year for the next instalment. I enjoyed the lead characters (although one extreme bit of behaviour did bother me) and the brief scenes with them together has them even more intriguing when they are playing off one another. It’s an enjoyable read, distinct from a lot of procedurals that I’ve read, with the true crimes group adding an interesting spin on things. I’ll be interested to see where it goes from here.