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Interrogation can be attempted in many different ways. If you are a fan of the movies you may have seen face dunking (Conspiracy Theory), electricity through the ears while someone talks about Michael Jackson (Three Kings), or even a knotted rope to the nethers (Casino Royale). What seems at first to be a dirty and depressing job is unlikely to be so in the real world. Interrogation is used by law enforcement everyday to break down a criminals story. But if you had the choice what would you rather read about hard hitting talk or hard hitting rope?
Alex Rourke is the central character of Winters End and he is an ex-FBI interrogator (do you see the link now?). After the death of his parents he had a breakdown and left the FBI to become a Private Investigator. Its his powers of interrogation that come to the fore when he is asked by an old friend to try and make a suspect talk. A mysterious name named Nicholas was found standing over a murdered woman with the knife in his hand but has refused to tell the police why. Can Alex uncover Nicholas story and his past to reveal a case that runs deep into a town's past?
There is not a huge amount that can be said about this novel as it is an average attempt at a crime story. Winters End is a debut for Rickards and you hope that in the future he can bring a bit more originality to the story. Arguably this novel is a set up to begin a series of Rourke adventures. Of all the characters in the book he is by far the most developed. We learn that he his haunted by his past and that he stands on the edge of another breakdown if too much pressure is applied. Now that we know the character I can imagine that any sequels would get straight on with the action.
The other characters in the book are not developed enough to make much mark on the story. Unlike the traditional crime book you pretty much know who committed the crime and the story is more about why, not who. We are able to eliminate the love interest and the Sheriff from our suspicions early on meaning that their importance to the story falters. It is only the role of Nicholas, as the silent witness/suspect, that shines through. Rickards is able to create an effective cat and mouse relationship with Rourke and Nicholas that comes through during their conversations. It is during these interrogation scenes that the book is at its best as the character of Rourke feels like he is in his element.
The problem with the books lies in the parts that are not in the interrogation cell. Even at its worst it is not bad, just very average and similar to other books in the crime genre. I could pick up a book by Michael Connelly or Robert Crais and read a similar, yet better, book. Rickards has obviously tried to carve out a niche by making his books more based around the conversational jousting between police and suspect, and to a greater extent this works. It is the parts removed from here that feel hackneyed and similar to every other crime thriller you may have read. If Rickards can develop on his story telling, and not just his unique selling point, he could be on to a winner.
There are other problems with the book, other than the lack of originality. The absence of characterisation has been noted but there are also several parts of the book that just dont work. These parts are mostly linked to Alexs fight with mental illness. He hallucinates and is unable to function when needed. I have yet to read a book that introduces hallucinations or waking dreams into a book and see it work.
For all its averageness and other problems, Winters End is still a perfectly adequate read. If you are a crime fan you will probably rattle through this in a day or two and be quite happy with what you read. For the people who have read all the other books out there this is a good book. However, as an introduction to the genre it is stilted and a bit unoriginal. I advise people to try Michael Connelly first before going on to Rickards.
An average but fun read that does not outstay its welcome.