Detective is a crime novel principally set in Miami in the late nineties and was written by American author Arthur Hailey. The book begins with the investigating policeman Sergeant Malcolm Ainslie asked to visit Elroy 'animal' Doil who is going to the electric chair in the morning, Ainslie caught Doil as he was killing an elderly couple but was suspected of 14 other murders. Ainslie drops plans for a family holiday and journeys to Jacksonville for the confession, in the meantime we are taken backwards and we view the murder investigation through Malcolm's eyes as each murder scene comes around. The only exceptions to the first person perspective are the discoveries of the murder scenes but the descriptions are in keeping with how Malcolm would have described the scenes if he was the first person to find the bodies.
This novel has been rigorously researched and we have the closest to the real Miami police force and how they would handle a serial killer who seemed to want to destroy the people he was killing whilst leaving clues associated with the book of Revelation from the bible. In this case, we have an advantage as Malcolm as well as being a policeman is also a former Catholic priest who lost his belief and decided to leave the priesthood for a 'normal' life.
I've always loved a good crime thriller/mystery, whether it's a cerebral PD James or a crash bang wallop affair of a Stephen Macbride thriller. My own favourites always included the American author Raymond Chandler and any well written murder mystery set in the States gets my approval. This novel is the one of the best crime thrillers I've ever read, well-paced, thoughtful, well-constructed, using neither shock value nor a breathless narrative to override plausibility issues it comes across as how a detective would have gone about trying to solve the murders. There are plenty of twists and turns, the novel begins with a simple confession of a serial killer moments before his execution, however it soon changes to departmental leaks, and one of the murders is left as killer unknown (I'll leave it there).
There are slight issues with some of the claims, the author tries to cover up a suicide by washing the hands which fired the gun but testing would have revealed residues regardless of the washing. There are religious elements which some readers would find unsavoury, as the cause and reason for the multiple murders are wrapped up in interpretations of the book of revelation. There is also the issue of a Catholic priest who has lost his faith, this is also covered and told as though this is inevitable given modern life.
It would be fair to say I loved this book, I had assumed it was one of a series so well covered was the back stories and the character detail but it is a standalone novel. The author only wrote a handful of novels but spent many months researching each and spent time with the respective situations he was going to portray in print. This was his final novel and based on the quality of the writing I am going to try and find his previous books.
If imitation is the best form of flattery, would an imitation murder qualify as such? Murders by notorious serial killers are one thing, but when another seeks to imitate the killings of notorious serial killers, (no, killing is not art) it still is murder in the cruelest form. The murderer might want to display his talents or killing repertoire. But if he seeks to imitate a particular killer, then there is a chance that he might get away with it; while the blame, rest assured, would be thrown on the imitated serial killer.
Detective by Arthur Hailey is not exactly a novel I would recco. But for people interested in crime fiction, this is a passable read. Let me go straight into the story which is based on the above theme.
The story is presented in flashbacks through detective Ainslie on his way to meet a serial killer. Looking forward to a vacation, he is intent on wrapping his cases at office when he receives a phone call. Doil, a serial killer, Ainslie had caught earlier wants to confess about the murders he has committed. While Ainslie is not exactly looking forward to it, Doil is one of the killers who constantly refused to accept any of his killings in court. It was only the overwhelming evidence against him and his style which made the judge's decision. A confession now would convince all the critics and would be testimony to the verdict.
As Ainslie makes his way to hear Doyle's confession, the writer gives us the flashbacks detailing how Doil has committed 14 murders(7 couples). Half the book details the murder investigations and how he was caught. So far, so good. The narrative upto this part is interesting and offers insights into the characters.
Once Ainslie meets up with Doil, Doil confesses to 14 killings, allright, but only 12 of the killings are in Ainslie's list. Two of them go unclaimed by Doil. Doil then proceeds to give him evidence of where the tools lay buried to claim two other unclaimed killings not present in Ainslie's list. He refutes the allegations about the remaining two murders in Ainslie's list. Ainslie is puzzled and does not believe him. But why would a dying man to be electrocuted in a few minutes lie about it? Doil, in effect seeks forgiveness for the murders he hasn't committed.
Note that I have referred to Doil as the serial killer while the one who imitates him is a murderer. That in effect should define the act and the purpose of the killings/murders.
That gets Ainslie to reopen the unsolved murders. He realizes that someone else had imitated Doil's style so that Doil could take the blame. Now the only question arises, who?
It's no whodunit, as the murderer is revealed sometime immediately after Doil's execution. Ofcourse there are also innumerable reasons why someone would choose to imitate a serial killer whatever the sadistic reasons.
The initial half of the book is quite good. You begin to loose interest once the identity of the imitative murderer is revealed. The rest of the story is in patches, at times told through the murderer's eyes. The way the serial killer is caught is good detective fiction. However the writer hits the block during the latter half. Two personalities get to play the first person as the read progresses though it is a good read at times. But when there is no other subplot left to reveal, why would I touch this book? Doil's version is narrated through the detective's work.
That leaves me thinking. Why does it have to be that a murderer or a serial killer always has to leave behind a clue? Is it impossible to catch them otherwise? Any murder/ fiction novel you read and the gist is the same - A murder, clue, a circuitous plotline and the suspects. For once, I'd like to read about a detective who solved a murder without any clues, motives or otherwise. Just plain plodwork by the police and negating most of the options has solved a few real life murders too. So what exactly is holding them back?
Worth a dekko ...
Publish year -1997, 461 pages
Purchase year price - 6.99 pounds
This review is available at Mouthshut