So, another crime novel and another book from the TV Book Club list.
Having said that, this is not your typical crime novel. It’s the story of a young boy, Stephen, whose uncle, Billy, was killed by a moors-murderers-style serial killer. Understandably this had a devastating effect on his mum, Stephen’s grandma, not least because the body was never found. Stephen’s mum, Billy’s sister, has grown up in the shadow of someone who was the favourite anyway but who she can now never compete with.
So Stephen’s family has some issues and he believes the way to fix things is find his uncle’s body. This leads him to start writing to the killer in jail.
I did really enjoy this book. I think it’s more about the impact this sort of crime has on a family long term rather than the usual trying to catch a terrible killer plot. So in that sense it’s not your normal crime novel. A couple of specific differences stand out: despite being quite gruesome the details of the crimes are not dwelt on as they sometimes are in books like this, also the killer is very definitely clearly “evil”. At first I thought this was a weakness of the book, thinking the characterisation was too simplistic. However as I read on more about his past was revealed and I think the line the author takes is to never make him a sympathetic character, to refuse to compromise on the idea that he did terrible things. Of course to some extent you do at least follow his story, so there’s a little sympathy/empathy there, but it’s very restrained which I think works in the end.
But the character in the book that I most enjoyed following was Stephen. Smart for his age and having had to take on a lot more than he should, you cheer on his efforts even perhaps when they are misguided – like writing to the killer. There’s some stuff about his family that felt it was laid on a little heavily, but overall it was well done.
8/10 – a gripping read. You’ll be anticipating the next letter as much as the characters.