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I write this review while feeling quite fatigued as I spent the last 2 nights glued to this book, and when I finished it around midnight last night, my mind churned for so long after I was prevented from drifting off into a restful slumber.
I am a real fan of crime novels, and over the past few years I have read many, from authors such as Ian Rankin, to my recently discovered favourite Quintin Jardine, with some Patricia Cornwell, Val McDermid, James Patterson, and whoever else I stumble across in my visits to the library. I am not that squeamish, so I was in shock from the very first page of the novel when the 3 page prologue made me a witness to a woman being brutally tortured with an electric drill. Something chilled me to the core, and I knew immediately that this book was going to be a good one, but I wasn't quite prepared for the gory journey ahead of me.
The book, by Nigel McCrery, first attracted me by the title. The cover looked quite dreary, a bit of a blurred shot of some stairs and a door, which looked like a photograph negative. The tagline, 'you won't just be afraid. You'll be scared to death' was what drew me in, as well as the acknowledgement that McCrery was the creator of Silent Witness, a TV programme that I have seen and enjoyed.
When I settled down with the book, I wasn't aware that it was part of a series featuring DCI Mark Lapslie. While 'Scream' is not the first book in the series, I felt that this did not matter, as apart from a couple of small references to other cases, I did not really notice that it was a series till I read about it on the critic comments at the back of the book when I finished it. This was good as a stand alone novel. Characters were really well established and the plot had me hooked.
The book starts with Lapslie in Pakistan about to give a presentation about policing methods. We are introduced to his character as he reflects on the similarities of Pakistan to the area of East London he grew up in. We become aware that Lapslie has a unique background. He suffers from a neurological condition, synaesthesia. This is a condition I have heard about before where the sufferer has a problem in their senses being a bit crossed. In this case, when Lapslie hears sounds such as traffic or people speaking, he gets a unique taste in his mouth.
I get the impression one or both of the earlier novels might look at how he copes with this condition, but in this book, his condition is being controlled by a means of medication, and therapy.
Lapslie is sent an unusual email while he is away. One that he cannot ignore, as it features 4 minutes of a woman screaming. Something instictively tells him that this is not a hoax but it is real, and he immediately gets a plane back to England to try and work out the mystery.
We also meet DS Emma Bradbury, who normally works with Lapslie, and while he is on his trip to Pakistan,
she has been put in charge of a case where a woman has been found naked and cut to shreds in a children's soft play centre on Canvey Island in Essex. A particularly gruesome crime for the area, which is a small inlet off the Thames which is a place seemingly stuck in the 1980s.
Somehow, a connection is made that the 2 cases are linked, and from that, some pretty clever forensic detection takes them to a murder location which horrifies them.
A woman has been held hostage for about a month, before being murdered in such a way. And when they start to look into it, she is not the first, and there are several other people currently missing, possibly in the hands of what must be a psychopath.
This novel had me absolutely in awe, as it was one of the most gory I have ever read, though a lot of that is a very skilled author building up the picture in my head, and makes me feel a mix of fascination and horror.
The suspense is kept up right to the end of the novel, with me being unable to work out until the latter part of the book which way we were going with it. Even then, I was reading the ending while holding my breath not knowing how far the author was going to go with it, and if it might be a bit too much for me.
The research that had gone into this book was very evident in a number of places. It felt a bit like information overload. An attempt was made to 'dumb down' the information by having scientists talk to the police officers about the techniques being done. There was some information about sound recordings and computer technology that I have to admit was totally beyond my understanding, and I had a 'smile and nod' moment, where I kind of rushed past it a bit to get onto the next bit of plot I could engage with.
There was also a section which looked at GMO crops, an area I have a personal interest in. I did a Biochemistry degree and my dissertation was about genetically modified crops. The level of information given was about the same level as that, and technically it was all correct and I followed the discussion completely, but it is beyond what the average reader would want to know about the subject in my opinion. I felt the relevance to the story did not warrant such a level of baffling detail.
Overall, the novel was a strong one, but not really for the faint hearted. I am used to gore in the medical sense of autopsies as a lot of crime novels seem to feel the need to shock the reader with it. This was on a whole new level though, as you were seeing the torture aspect, and it was uncomfortable reading. The unknown of what someone is capable of doing, and who that someone is, and when or where they might strike again is absolutely terrifying. The fear is there from page one of the prologue, and doesn't really leave till the novel ends. I was sickened by it, yet like a scab, I couldn't stop picking away at the story as imagining what was next was far worse than reading it.
The characters were strong, and intelligent. There was a lot going on, but I could picture Mark Lapslie and Emma Bradbury as real likeable people, who go on and have full lives with partners and families. I really cared for these characters and what happened to them from the start. Mark Lapslie fascinated me with how he coped with his medical condition and getting an insight to how it could affect someone's whole life.
Mark is a bit of an unorthodox character. I think quite often male detectives in crime novels are. They seem to operate by their own set of rules, which might be different to what other people use. This makes them excellent detectives when it comes to solving these horrendous crimes you see in crime novels. There is something exciting as a reader about not quite knowing where the boundaries are, or what the character will be willing to do to solve the puzzle in front of them.
The supporting characters of the forensic team, and even the murder/kidnap victims are also well fleshed individuals who you get a real sense of as you progress through the story.
The thing this author has done well is to get my imagination working overtime. Rather than just read prescriptively, my head was following the story and trying to work it out at the same time, darting around all over the place and pouncing on what it fell upon to see if it was a clue.
I don't know if I recommend this one or not. It is a fine piece of fiction, but I feel it needs a warning. I don't see how anyone can read this without feeling horrified.