Written by David Jackson — New York. Now, or maybe just the other day. A mother, racked with worry, looks out through the rain-streaked window onto the street, hoping to see her missing daughter. Megan has been gone only a few days, but she is just 16. On the other side of town, a man’s festering rage over dustbins with his Chinese restaurant neighbours erupts into farce, as he marches into the premises and tips the contents of several bin-bags onto the floor, in front of early evening diners. Except this farce isn’t remotely funny, because along with the left-over dinners, drink cans and kitchen waste is a severed head. Of a young girl.
With a sickening inevitability, these two cameos collide. The head is rapidly identified as that of the missing girl, Megan Hamlyn. Other body parts turn up, most significantly that of Megan’s hips and pelvic area. The small of her back is bruised and cut, but it sports a brand new tattoo – of a beautifully crafted angel. Detective Second Grade Callum Doyle is assigned the case, and he and new partner Tommy LeBlanc break the news to Nicole and Steve Hamlyn. They tell Doyle that Megan flounced out of the house after a row about her having a tattoo. Doyle goes through the professional motions, but now his mind is spinning. Because he knows who killed, tortured and raped Megan.
The last few years of Doyle’s police career have been a whirlwind of dead partners, botched raids and disasters. No failure nags at him more than his utter conviction that a seedy tattooist called Stanley Francis Proust raped and murdered Alyssa Palmer – after she had gone to him for some ‘ink’. Proust walked free then but Doyle sees that this is his chance to set to the record straight. His aim is to bring Proust down, and he will do it any which way. LeBlanc is horrified at his partner’s obsessive disregard for police procedure, and is drawn into a strange and subtle game involving Proust, a repulsive mobster called Lucas Bartok, and several police colleagues who have old scores to settle with Doyle.
As relentless as the ever present New York rain, Doyle pursues the tattooist. He is beaten, bowed, insulted, trapped and double-crossed by a complex network of adversaries. In the end, it is a heart-stopping act of vengeance and self-sacrifice by a mother that blows the case wide open. But not before Doyle has been fooled and abused, and has presided over the near disintegration of his marriage.
This is brute of a book. It is visceral, violent, bitter and at times almost too harrowing to read. There is little redemption or solace on offer for either victims or villains. Nor for the reader, come to that. David Jackson is a talented and forceful writer, and his prose is so good that for many this will be a book you have to get through in just a couple of sittings. So why not full marks? I had not read the previous two Callum Doyle books, and so I came to this one with no preconceptions. I just did not sympathise with Doyle enough, and found that his belated self-awareness does not compensate for the wreckage he causes throughout the story. The writing, dialogue and plotting are all top notch, but I after the last page I felt totally punched out – like the victim of one of the graphically described beatings administered to various characters.
CFL Rating: 4 stars