Written by Luca Veste — Luca Veste was one of the first writers to contribute to Crime Fiction Lover, under the pseudonym GuiltyConscience. I can remember how happy he was when I told him one day that he was ‘a crime fiction machine’. I said it on account of all the hard work he was putting into his articles for CFL, but he was also busy grafting away on his own crime stories and was very passionate about getting his novel written.
In his debut, Dead Gone, he has proven me right. Luca Veste is a crime fiction machine and all the cogs, levers, pulleys and other widgets working in his mind have manufactured a fine police procedural set in his home city, Liverpool. Here we meet DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi, who are called out when the body of a woman is found by a dog walker early one morning. There’s a note attached to her stating that she’s part of some strange experiment. At first, Murphy thinks the note is there to throw them off the scent, but soon another body is found with a similar message. There’s a serial killer stalking Liverpool and all the signs are that his work is just beginning.
While we see the investigation progress via Murphy and Rossi’s story, other perspectives are also shared. One is that of a victim, a young woman called Jemma who’s been picked up by a black cab after a night out drinking. Instead of being dropped home, though, she’s taken captive in a purpose-built basement cell. We also learn about her boyfriend, Rob, who’s distraught over the fact that she hasn’t come home. He’s worried about her safety, but he also goes between thinking she’s left him and worrying that people think he’s killed her. Then there’s the killer’s view. He’s confident, ambitious and determined. For him, what begins as a very sick academic process turns increasingly into bloodlust.
There are all sorts of obstacles to the investigation, from a lack of clues and witnesses to a lack of budget due to government cuts. However, as the victims are linked to the university, and because the killer seems to be doing psychological experiments, Murphy and Rossi focus their enquiry on Liverpool City University’s psychology department. Surprisingly, that’s where Rob, boyfriend of the missing Jemma, works. And from there the author keeps you guessing as to who might be behind the continuing abductions and killings.
The biggest hindrance to police progress, however, seems to be Murphy himself. In another plot thread, he’s struggling to overcome the murder of both his parents. It’s caused him to split from his wife, move to the Wirral, and this murder case is his first one since the trauma. It’s almost as though his pent up emotions need to be ironed out before he’ll be able to solve the Uni Ripper murders.
Dead Gone’s storyline is clever and multi-layered, and Luca Veste has worked in all sorts of topics he wants to explore. It touches on everything from his own interests in crime and psychology to notions of class and upbringing, and uses the city’s geography wonderfully as a backdrop. Some of the crimes are brutal and disturbing, but the author doesn’t quite overindulge. Some of the more sedate passages are a little humdrum – wordy, with unnecessary detail. Murphy, despite his painful backstory, does seem a bit flat. Rossi is the more rounded character.
However the book’s conclusion will have you riveted. Having seen the story unfold from several perspectives you’ll have inklings early on about whodunnit, and as Dead Gone reaches its climax you’ll think yourself certain. But, like I said, this is a multi-layered book and the author does well to surprise while at the same time avoiding several crime clichés that less aware writers might be susceptible to. Luca Veste certainly is a crime fiction machine and it’s clear that he knew what he wanted to do, and did it, here in his debut. Another book is already in the pipes for us to look forward to.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
You can read our interview with Luca Veste here. Dead Gone is out 5 December on Kindle. It’s only 99p to pre-order at the moment. The paperback is out 16 January.