I read Steve Mosby's debut ''The Third Person'' a few years ago and was impressed with his writing and with his imagination. Sadly, he seemed to have too many ideas for that book and in trying to make them all fit into the story, things got a little cluttered. He's now on his fifth book, which suggests he's doing something right, so he deserves a second chance.
Alex Connor has been trying to negate the memory of his wife's suicide by running away. He's left all his friends behind and has barely been in touch with them for years. But now Sarah, one of his closest friends, has been murdered and the prime suspect is her partner, Alex's brother James. For Alex, this is the one thing that could call him home, as Sarah was the one who told him to confront death, not run from it.
Sarah isn't the only recent victim, as there are a string of murdered young women, many of whose bodies were never found. A former prisoner turned artist and a member of a website that specialises in pictures of corpses have come to the attention of detective Paul Kearney, who is looking for one of the missing women. But Kearney also has demons from his past haunting him.
Mosby has changed his style from the last book of his I read. Although there are a number of aspects to the story, they all fit together nicely and there is a single obvious basic idea. There are plenty of plot strands, but they never seem muddled or get in each other's way, as has happened with Mosby's writing before. Even better, there was a brief, barely mentioned idea that never came to fruition, but sat huddled in the background like a malevolent presence you never see.
This is not a book for the faint of heart, as it's a very dark tale. There are some very unpleasant themes here, with child pornography being touched on as well. This is a book that can turn the stomach as much as it can entertain. But despite this it's a compelling read; one of those things where you don't want to watch, but can't tear yourself away. This is car crash literature and you may hate yourself for reading on, but you may be unable to help it.
This is Mosby's greatest triumph, as he has taken something disturbing and turned it into something which is somehow attractive. If you happened across an example of the type of website mentioned here, you'd likely be disgusted. The behaviour of many of the characters is something you may see on the news and wonder what the world was coming to. But in this form, it's such a well told story with so much happening that it as fascinating as it is disturbing, even whilst you sense the horrific nature of events around the edges.
If there's one downfall, it's that there isn't a lot of emotion from the characters. Whilst they seem occasionally disgusted and Kearney is going through some unpleasant circumstances, there's nothing really pervasive. There is a touch of guilt and some regret and disgust, but whilst things are well enough described that you can ascribe your own emotions to the characters, their own aren't always obvious. This makes it tough to relate, as the characters don't always seem completely real and their lack of reaction makes events feel a little sterile at times.
However, the emotions the book makes the reader feel make up for the lack of the same from the characters and it's a very well paced and well thought out story. The basic idea, although disturbing, is a good one and whilst it's an uncomfortable read sometimes, it's certainly a compelling one. My opinion of Steve Mosby's writing improved greatly between the front and back covers of this book, although not quite enough to recommend a purchase ahead of a loan of a book that is available most cheaply from the Amazon Marketplace at a still slightly poor value £3.19.
This is a slightly amended version of a review that has previously appeared under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk