“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: TORN by Casey Hill

Casey Hill is the pseudonym of the wife-and-husband writing team, Melissa and Kevin Hill; Melissa Hill is a best-selling author of women’s fiction. Their first novel was TABOO (2011).
  The Quantico-trained, Dublin-based Californian forensic investigator Reilly Steel of the fictional Garda Forensic Unit (GFU) returns for her second outing in Casey Hill’s second novel, TORN (Simon & Schuster), in which a particularly perverse serial killer is dispatching his victims in a series of diabolical murders that have their roots in one of the great works of world literature - Dante’s Comedy, and in particular the Inferno.
  The first victim, for example, is found inside a septic tank, where he has drowned in a rather horrible fashion. He is, perhaps not coincidentally, a journalist …
  As more corpses appear, Reilly Steel and her team, in tandem with Garda detectives Chris Delaney and Pete Kennedy, realise that despite the apparent random nature of the killings, a pattern is emerging.
  On the face of it, it’s not a particularly plausible plot, but despite the cutting-edge technology on display here - at one point Reilly uses an iSPI (Investigative Scene Processing Integration) device to help her reconstruct crime scenes - Casey Hill is in the business of creating old-fashioned mystery stories that have much more in common with the puzzle-solving games of yore than they have with the gritty realists of contemporary crime fiction. In this context, it’s less important to construct an ironclad plot than it is to create for the reader an intriguing puzzle which can be solved by the reading of various clues.
  Indeed, the reader is encouraged to have some fun acknowledging the tropes of the serial killer puzzler. “Are you really surprised that he didn’t take you straight to his home territory so early in the game?” asks a character of Reilly in the latter stages. The authors even allow Reilly a tongue-in-cheek run-through of the serial killer genre’s conventions as she comments aloud on the case in hand: “Meticulously planned murders,” she observes, “no effort too great, lots of research on the victims needed, the method of dispatch excessive, grotesque even …”
  That said, and while accepting that TORN leans heavily towards the escapist end of the crime / mystery spectrum, an existential quality emerges as the story thunders towards its finale. What is the point? Reilly & Co ask themselves. Isn’t catching a killer once the murders are already committed an exercise in stable-door bolting? And who can guarantee the investigators, who put their lives on the line, that the judicial system will vindicate their efforts and not botch the prosecution?
  Given the conservative nature of the crime / mystery novel, this is a quiet but impressively radical departure. There’s little of the usual cant about justice and redemption on show here; in TORN, the punishment very aptly fits the crime. In the guise of ostensibly escapist mystery fiction, Casey Hill asks a valid but rarely asked question: do readers have the stomach for a truly gritty reality, in which some crimes, no matter how terrible, simply go unpunished? - Declan Burke

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