Written by Rosie Claverton — In her debut crime novel, screenwriter and journalist Rosie Claverton brings us the story of Jason Carr, a young man from one of the rougher areas of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. He has run with the wrong crowd and ended up in jail. He did the crime, has done the time, and now he’s out and living with his long suffering widowed mum, and his scornful sister. He has to get a job – an honest one – as he has seen enough of Usk Prison to make him anxious not to return. He lands a cleaning job. Not too proud to want to make a go of it, he gets stuck in. It suddenly becomes more interesting when he’s asked to go and clean for an eccentric and agoraphobic young woman – Amy Lane.
Jason arrives at Amy’s house, and is bewildered to find that it is the suburban equivalent of Fort Knox. Protected by movement sensors, voice recognition technology and all manner of sophisticated security devices, the house is both prison and womb for Amy Lane. The flat is an insanitary tip, Amy is unkempt and emaciated, and she spends her waking hours in front of a bank of computer monitors. Through a family fortune she has more money than she can ever spend, but she acts as an IT consultant to the police. As Jason scrubs, tidies and polishes his way through Amy’s house, he is an innocent bystander when the police call to ask for Amy’s help in tracking down a serial killer who is targeting young Cardiff women.
The one thing Amy cannot do is step outside of the house. As a begrudging bond begins to develop between her and her cleaner, she realises that he can go places that she cannot. Jason, therefore, treads the streets, and in between cooking and caring for his unusual employer, he becomes involved in the hunt for the murderer. He has problems of his own, however, as criminal acquaintances from his old life resent that he seems to have gone over to ‘the other side’.
The book ramps up the tension superbly, one step at a time. Amy sits in front of her monitors crunching data and providing both the police and Jason with leads, sightings, and online footprints of the killer, who seems to be building up to one final murderous climax. The only unconvincing thing about this great debut novel is the ease with which the well-resourced modern police force allow Jason to go clattering around the city trying to bring down the cunning and resourceful killer. This is nowhere more evident than in the finale, when we have to say that Mr Carr is a very lucky young man.
The portrayal Amy is intriguing, and by far the strongest part of the book. Claverton manages the unlikely conjuring trick of making her both vulnerable and dominant, impossibly frail and yet with a core of steel. Readers like myself, with a working knowledge of information technology that falls well short of the expert, will just have to take it on trust that someone can sit at a powerful computer and access pretty much every public service database in a city the size of Cardiff, as well as tapping into video streams from every CCTV camera in the area. Binary Witness is meant to be the first in a series of stories featuring the remarkable Ms Lane. Without going into too much detail, one of the endearing things about the book is the developing relationship between Amy and Jason: Amy’s oddness is part of her charm, and I hope that when she returns to Kindle, Jason’s reassuring presence doesn’t make her too ‘normal’.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars