Dead Set by Will Carver

2 Mins read

Eames is a psychopath. Following events in Carver’s debut novel, Girl 4, he languishes in a hospital for the criminally insane to the west of London. His nemesis is Detective Inspector January David, but David has little to be cheerful about. His estranged wife, Audrey, came close to becoming another victim of Eames. A bizarre consequence of her ordeal was that she struck up a relationship with her assailant, and fled to New York, where she is pursuing her business career while looking after her infant son, Walter. She wants nothing more than to be reunited with David, but Walter is a slight problem. His father is not David, but Eames.

January David is doubly troubled, however. An insistent and constant ground-bass to his adult life has been the mysterious disappearance, years earlier, of his little sister Cathy. She was there, but then she was gone, and no trace of her has ever been found. David has a black intuition that one day light will be shed on her vanishing.

While we try to get our heads around this variation on the ménage à trois, a drunken clubber stops to relieve himself in a London park, and sobers up rapidly when he realises that he is standing above the carelessly buried body of a young girl. It is with guilty relief that the officers of the Violent Crime Unit, colleagues of David, learn that the body is that of another missing four-year-old, Aria Sky. Momentarily, David’s hope is rekindled, but then he receives a call from a New York police officer. The body of a young woman has been found, hideously mutilated, in a disused theatre, and the modus operandi is chillingly similar to that of Eames. After establishing that Eames is still under lock and key in his Berkshire hospital, David flies to New York to examine the evidence at first hand.

In London, pressure is brought to bear on the officers investigating Aria’s death. They are advised to blame the usual suspects – in this case, a family member. In New York, as David is dramatically and passionately reunited with his wife, he struggles to comprehend how Eames can be orchestrating the continuing murders – all linked to famous conjuring tricks – from his cell in a mental hospital over 3,000 miles away. He is adrift in a sea of troubles. Can he trust FBI agent Marquez? Can he put Audrey’s past behaviour to one side?

This is far from being an easy read, in any sense of the expression. The constant switching of narrative voices is unsettling. Some of the literary devices employed – such as the murder victims predicting and describing their deaths, both before and after the event – may be a daring sleight-of-hand, but is one that strains credulity. On a more positive note, there is a touch of the great Derek Raymond about Carver’s style. The violence is matter of fact but terrible, the world is a place without respect, without pity, and with few good men. And, there is bleak poetry in the dry catalogue of human evil and suffering.

As with Girl 4 and The Two, in Dead Set Carver is certainly trying to do something different from run-of-the-mill modern procedurals. If you are prepared to persevere while he takes you through some shifts that can be very puzzling, you’re certainly in for a rewarding read. There are brief but shocking descriptions of savagery, and some of the best erotic writing I have ever read in a crime novel. But be warned. The book, the mood, and the events are all several shades blacker than black…

You can read an interview with the author here.

Arrow Books

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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