The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

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The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard front cover

Department store security men. You probably never even notice them but being inconspicuous comes with the job description, I imagine. So Jim definitely fits the bill as he patrols the aisles of a shop in Cork in the Republic of Ireland. He’s an ex garda and his old fashioned copper ways mean he is treated as a bit of a joke by his store colleagues but Jim isn’t bothered; he’ll do his job until his appointed clocking off time and then go home to wife Noreen.

Jim is a bit of a nobody, a nothing man really. Which is why he is shocked to spot a new tome being trumpeted in the books section of the store. It’s true crime written by the survivor of a multi murderer’s final attack and it strikes a chord with Jim because he remembers the cases well. And so he should – because easily overlooked, unassuming Jim is a man with a BIG secret. He is The Nothing Man of the title and he has never been brought to justice. Eighteen years ago, Jim terrorised the residents of Cork in five violent crimes which began with a vicious assault on a middle-aged woman and steadily escalated, culminating in the murder of Ross and Deirdre Black and their seven-year-old-daughter, Anna.

Now Eve Black, who was 12 and hiding in the bathroom when her family was murdered, is telling her side of the story and Jim is incensed. An angry Jim is a frightening thing to behold, as we are about to find out.

The Nothing Man is strangely constructed, comprising as it does two distinct viewpoints – that of an increasingly unpredictable Jim, interspersed with text from the best-selling new true crime book penned by Eve. The only place we meet her, and the other victims, is through her writing and it is a distinctly unsettling experience – you’ll get deeply invested in the survivor’s story when up pops Jim, who is reading along with us and getting more and more upset as the pages turn. This is HIS story after all, and Eve isn’t exactly showing him in a good light. Then comes news that she is to do a public appearance and book signing in Cork and Jim sees his chance to get revenge. Something is about to happen, and it isn’t going to be pretty…

This is a clever plot which could be transplanted into any environment. In fact The Nothing Man feels at times as if it is set in Nowhere Land. There is no real sense of place here and when the Garda Siochana are first mentioned it brought me up short, as until this point I hadn’t really grasped that the book was set in the Republic of Ireland. However, it’s a story that would work really well as a TV drama and that lack of a solid placement would be a bonus for anyone who decided to adapt the novel for film.

Catherine Ryan Howard has a light and engaging writing style that really brings her story to life. The characters pop off the page – disturbingly so in the case of Jim, who is a frightening prospect and will haunt your sleepless nights. It is refreshing to read a book that views crime from an unusual perspective and once you’re used to the swapping and changing between viewpoints, it grabs the attention and keeps a tight hold until the end. This is the first time I’ve read this author’s work and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye open for more.

For more Irish crime fiction, click here. Read our review of Distress Signals, a previous Catherine Ryan Howard novel, here.

Blackstone Publishing

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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