Written by Clare Donoghue — Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer, working in South East London, has his hands full with a triple murder. A serial killer is on the loose and the victims, all young women, have similar profiles. And it’s assumed the killer is just getting warmed up.
Lockyer is an accomplished detective, but is also the victim of a failed marriage and his own infidelity. He wears his wedding ring on a chain as a reminder. When not hunting down killers, he visits his autistic brother who lives in a special care facility. Lockyer’s juggling of his personal life and work becomes precarious when he realises the latest victim resembles his own daughter. The DI is ably aided by Senior Detective Sergeant Jane Bennett, a sharp and by-the-book cop whose own personal struggles are subtly revealed during well-crafted scenes of police work.
When it’s learned that all of the murder victims have had an abortion at the same clinic prior to meeting their demise, eyes turn towards the clinic’s creepy owner. Meanwhile another woman, Sarah Grainger, who fits the profile of the other murdered woman, is sure she’s being stalked by an unknown stranger. This is confirmed when she receives phone calls and chilling notes on her doorstep.
The author expresses the fear and paralysis felt by stalking victims extremely well. She further infuses the besieged victim’s palpable terror with the additional threat of murder as Lockyer’s case progresses. Is it the same perpetrator? The original title for this novel, The Watcher, is arguably truer to the essential tenor of the book, which is the ambiguous identity of the killer. In any case, Clare Donoghue keeps us on edge and guessing all the way with red herrings and gruesome crime scenes.
This is Donoghue’s first novel and it’s written with such a sure hand that its preliminary pages were longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award in 2011. The author has apparently studied the crime fiction genre well and knows how to bring out its best aspects. She makes short work of establishing realistic characters and brilliantly portrays the desperation of crime victims, the professional and personal conflicts of investigators, and the awfully intimate act of murder itself.
The beleaguered Lockyer sees his personal and professional lives become blurred, while family crises develop in parallel with his increasingly intimate relationship with the stalked Sarah. She could be the killer’s next victim, so the closer to her he gets, the more dangerous things could become. To complicate things further, an indirect link to his daughter is discovered in the investigation. Things get even more tense when the killer intrudes directly into Lockyer’s personal life – while visiting his autistic brother, Lockyer finds a clue to the murders in his brother’s room.
The book also contains a masterful and poignant description of autism. At first it seems like a sentimental aside, but we soon learn it has an important role in the story. Everything is connected in this thrilling novel, a white-knuckler until the last page, as Lockyer rushes to catch the serial killer and protect those he loves most.
Never Look Back is heartfelt, riveting, and as suspenseful as they come. Highly recommended for fans of nail-biting thrillers and classic whodunnits, it’s out on 13 March.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars