The Nothing Man (2020) by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Nothing Man terrorised County Cork in 2001. His crimes, all perpetrated in the victims’ homes began with assault and escalated to rape and murder. His final attack, on the Black family, left only one survivor, Eve. Now, after years of trauma, Eve Black has written about her investigation into the identity of the Nothing Man.

In the book, she interviews the survivors of the Nothing Man’s attacks and draws together previously unlinked strands of evidence to form a picture of the man who earned his nickname as there was literally nothing pointing towards. He was never caught, there were never any suspects at the time. With luck, this book detailing his crimes and new theories will help jog people’s memories.

It makes a fascinating, essential read – especially if you are the Nothing Man.

Catherine Ryan Howard is an author who I’ve been lucky enough to follow from the beginning of her writing career. Distress Signals was one of the most impressive debuts that I’ve seen, and the follow up, The Liar’s Girl, played some interesting games with expectations. Rewind, her third book, showed some real experimentation, with the various chapters being presented out of chronological order, but rose above the apparent gimmick to show some genuine clever plotting coupled with engrossing writing. And that experimentation in format continues in The Nothing Man.

To clarify, half of the book (written in a distinct font from the other half, so the reader won’t get confused) is a true crime story about The Nothing Man – well, “true” crime I suppose because just in case you weren’t clear, the whole thing is a work of fiction. However sandwiched between sections of that book are the reactions of Jim, a security guard, and his horror when he sees, in the book department of his workplace, a new book with his old name plastered all over the front of the book. Unable to stay away from the book, and concerned as to what Eve may or may not have discovered about him, Jim begins to read…

Again, something that may be viewed as a gimmick instead becomes a truly original book. I’m not one to read true crime books, in part because of the potential glorification of serial killers, but Catherine here, via Eve’s voice, makes a clear point that this isn’t what should be done. “Eve”’s book concentrates on the victims and the process of trying to find the Nothing Man, rather than dwelling on the horrors of his crimes. There’s one book that I do mean to get round to, Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, which I believe takes a similar tack and is cited as an inspiration for this.

I won’t go into details about how the story progresses, but it’s worth noting how impressive it is how both stories keep the reader engrossed. It’s very easy in dual narratives for one aspect to be more gripping than the other, but that is certainly not the case here. The Nothing Man is a truly original crime novel, but is far more than just a clever concept. Catherine Ryan Howard creates a perfect marriage between an original concept, engrossing writing and a twisty thriller that is guaranteed to keep the reader gripped from beginning to end.

Many thanks to the author for the review copy. The Nothing Man is out tomorrow, August 6th in hardback and ebook.

4 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, which reminds me I haven’t caught up with Howard’s books since ‘Distress Signals’. The different novels all seem like standalone titles – I presume there isn’t necessity to read them in order? Do you think any particular title stands out from the rest?

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    • There’s no order to them. There is an offhand reference to The Liar’s Girl in this one, but it’s not a spoiler. As for a standout – maybe Rewind? But they’re all strong

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  2. […] There are, of course, a few exceptions though. I suppose several of Jim Thompson’s stories would technically constitute serial killer stories and yet I have happily sought those out. I suspect that reflects that I find the characters to be quite rich and that character’s perspective is usually shared with the reader. I also enjoyed Ruth Rendell’s A Demon in My View which closely follows the character of a retired serial killer. It is primarily then with that interest in stories that follow the killer that I picked up a copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest book The Nothing Man after reading a review of it a week or two ago on Puzzle Doctor’s excellent blog In Search of the Classic Mystery. […]

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