Thursday, February 18, 2010

Paul Cleave – Black Swan – NZ$36.99

I reviewed this book earlier today with Kathryn Ryan on her Nine to Noon programme on Radio NZ National. You can hear the broadcast here although I am not sure how long it remains on the site.

The following is my written version.

Paul Cleave is a 35 year old Christchurch writer and Blood Men is his fourth novel following The Cleaner, The Killing Hour, and Cemetery Lake. This new title, like the others, is not a book you read at home alone. Always set in the seedy underbelly of Christchurch, always involving multiple gruesome killings, I lost count in this one at about nine deaths, for my money they sit more comfortably in the thriller genre rather than crime fiction although having said that I guess there are strong elements of both.

Blood Men starts on the Friday morning before the Christmas break, just four more days of work for accountants Edward and Jodie Hunter, both in their late 20’s, and one day of school for their daughter Sam, and they are all looking forward to the holidays.

At 12.30pm that day Edward and Jodie meet for lunch at a cafe on the strip of cafes and bars along the Avon before going to the bank for a 1.15pm appointment to discuss a mortgage for the new house they are planning to buy. They are at the bank waiting with keen anticipation when at 1.13pm six men carrying shotguns walk through the front door.

Here is how Edward describes that moment:

It’s a moment in a movie. Something so incredibly implausible and so far away from what I’m thinking about that I can’t even comprehend it. I actually look away for a second, just this normal slice of life in this everyday normal bank where abnormal things don’t happen, back to the family oriented posters and floating interest rates, back to Jodie sitting opposite me – and then, somehow, somehow, it all becomes real.

It is real alright and suddenly Hunter who has everything – a wife, a child, a job, dreams, a family Christmas ahead – suddenly it has all gone.

The book is a real page turner and the week that the story covers, from the back robbery to the surprising finale, with all the suspense, brutality, murder and mayhem is suddenly over and one is left stunned and speechless.

Edward Hunter proves to be the son of a serial killer, a mass murderer who killed 11 prostitutes in Christchurch. He was present as a child the day they arrested his father, his photograph appeared in the newspapers, so he grows up with everyone knowing he was the son of a serial killer. He struggled the whole of his life to put that behind him as people wonder whether he will end up like his dad.

As a result of the bank robbery and what follows, I can’t say too much without giving away the story, Edward visits Christchurch prison and meets his father once again, the first time since he was arrested all those years before. It is a difficult prickly meeting at which his father informs him about the voice he hears compelling him to do the things he did and Edward, like his father, hears a voice, his own voice but different.

The story is skilfully built around the conflict that Edward faces as he becomes more and more involved with trying to track down the bank robbers responsible for the death of his wife while at the same time becoming more and more involved with his duplicitous father. Interestingly while he is at the prison he sees characters who have appeared in earlier Cleave novels including the Christchurch Carver the protagonist in The Cleaner.

This is an outstanding psychological thriller but is not for the faint hearted. Paul Cleave has enjoyed impressive success with his earlier books being translated into seven languages. Impressively The Cleaner was Amazon Germany’s biggest selling crime novel in 2007. To date is has sold over 250,000 copies.

Blood Men though may prove to be his biggest seller yet as US rights have been picked up by Simon & Schuster and if he can crack the US market, the world’s largest English speaking market, and keep producing books of this calibre then his future is assured.

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