Written by Emma Kavanagh — The blurb for this book had me gripped. Teenage girl finds three bodies propped up against Hadrian’s Wall. The killer is put behind bars, then, 20 years later, bodies begin to appear again. For a crime fiction lover, what’s not to love?
Trouble is, The Killer on the Wall is such a slow burner that enthusiasm will all but peter out as you reach the halfway point. Strangely, when I looked back at my review of Kavanagh’s The Missing Hours, I found I’d made a similar observation. But good things come to those who wait – and boy, is the second half of The Killer on the Wall good!
Isla Bell is just 15 when she makes the grisly discovery not far from her home in the sleepy little town of Briganton. One of the victims is Zach, a friend from school, while nearby lies Zach’s older brother Ramsey, victim number four. But wait! Ramsey is still alive – fast forward to the present and he and Isla are married and living in Briganton, a town which has never quite recovered from the horror visited upon it all those years ago.
Ramsey is a journalist, while Isla is a professor of forensic psychology at a nearby university, spending her time studying the brains of serial killers. Only natural, then, that she should want to take an in-depth look at Heath McGowan, the man who killed the victims found by teenage Isla; the man they call The Killer on the Wall.
McGowan revels in his notoriety, and when the killings begin again he sees it as some sort of twisted tribute to his deadly derring do. However, he’s the only person happy about this turn of events. Suddenly, Briganton is once again under siege, residents fearing for their lives. Is this a new, copycat killer, or could the original conviction be flawed?
Newly-arrived DC Mina Arian has no preconceived ideas, but she is soon leaning toward the latter conclusion. Only problem is, Det Supt Eric Bell, the man hailed a hero for catching McGowan single-handedly, is now her boss. And he’s also Isla’s Dad.
There’s a darkly incestuous feeling about this narrative, with myriad connections and intertwined strands which will work well to bamboozle you. Four times, I thought I had it all sorted in my head, only for Kavanagh to throw another spanner in the works. The final reveal, when it comes, is both surprising and oh-so-sneaky.
The author has a PhD in psychology and she puts it to good use here, particularly in the scenes which see Isla visiting McGowan in prison. They are intense, claustrophobic and utterly realistic. The picture of a town in turmoil is also spot-on, to the point where you’ll be tempted to make a quick check of your surroundings before turning another page. The scattergun approach to the point of view narrative here is a little disconcerting on occasions. It’s best to take note at the start of each chapter, or you’ll be in danger of losing the thread.
Of all the characters featured here, Mina was definitely my favourite and someone I’d love to have learned more about. She stays true to her purpose while others are losing their way, and has a pivotal role to play. While some characters display a hint of caricature, Mina is a solid, living, breathing, under pressure police officer.
It pays to persevere with this one. Get past those early, slow chapters and you’ll find The Killer on the Wall to be a gripping read.
The Killer on the Wall is released 20 April. For more psychological thrillers click here.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars