The Mind of a Murderer by Michael Wood

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The Mind of a Murderer by Michael Wood front cover

Meet Dr Olivia Winter. She’s a forensic psychologist and the protagonist in The Mind of a Murderer, first in a new series by Michael Wood. Throughout her career, Olivia has travelled the world to meet serial killers, to talk to them and endeavour to get inside their minds and uncover their motivation for murder.

It’s a subject she is almost obsessive about, to the detriment of her social life – in fact, life in general. Olivia is pretty much a loner, with few people she truly trusts and even fewer friends. She lives in a high-end property which has top-of-the-range security and enough locks to rival Fort Knox. Personal safety is another of Olivia’s obsessions, it seems.

And soon enough we find out why, because Olivia is living a lie. Her real surname is Button, which is also the name of one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers… her father. Richard Button’s killing spree ended in the murders of his wife and daughter, and Olivia was next but she survived her stab wounds to live another day. He is in prison for life, taunting his surviving daughter by sending her occasional letters and birthday cards which she ignores.

The trouble is that Button’s thrill killing spree has inspired someone to follow in his footsteps; a copycat killer is operating in London and the police appeal to Olivia for help to catch him.

She refuses, until the murderer crosses a line by killing Olivia’s closest friend, DI Jessica Sheffield. They had been pals since childhood and Jessica was one of the few people who knew Olivia’s secret. Now it’s personal, and Olivia will do anything she can to stop him – including going to see her father, who is in hospital after a heart attack. Unsurprisingly, he isn’t much help, instead playing his own power games in a manner a little reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter. It’s clear that if Olivia’s going to sort this one out, she will have to rely on her own skills.

At the start I really took to Olivia. She lives by her own rules and for all the iron clad security with which she surrounds herself, there’s a sense of vulnerability which is appealing. But as the chapters came and went, the carefully constructed facade began to crumble. This is a woman for whom safety is everything – so why succumb to having rough sex with strangers, and bringing them home to her fortress?

She has a hi-tech security system, so why doesn’t she look back at the CCTV footage when things begin to go awry? And would such a level-headed, security conscious person really give a spare key to a neighbour so easily? There are times when things just don’t ring true, and it rankles.

That being said, there are many positives to this book – such as DI Amyas Foley, who is heading the hunt for the serial killer, and Olivia’s partner at the Behavioural Science Administration, Dr Sebastian Lister. Both are interesting and well-rounded characters who serve as counterpoints to Olivia and her somewhat irritating inconsistencies.

The author weaves some clever plot threads in a book which explores the multiple themes of obsession, hero-worship, loyalty and family ties and offers up some neat twists and surprising conclusions. The reveal, when it arrives, is a little hurried after such a carefully constructed build up.

This is a solid opening to a new series, clearly the cat and mouse game between Olivia and her father has plenty of mileage in it yet and I hope to see more of Foley and Lister too. Where could the future take them? Only Michael Wood knows – and let’s hope he’s willing to share!

You’ll become acquainted with another forensic psychologist in Michael Robotham’s Good Girl Bad Girl.

One More Chapter

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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