“Death could be waiting for him, but he wasn’t afraid. Whether it be sooner or later, he welcomed the inevitability with open arms.”
Craig R. Key’s third novel has been on the review circuit for a few months now, being sent out for free to readers in exchange for an honest write-up. You can never be sure exactly what you’re getting into in these situations, but I feel like this unflinching crime thriller should have been issued with the ebook equivalent of a Parental Advisory sticker. It’s sure to be a bit much for readers with less sturdy stomachs, and not the sort of tome you should welcome into your home and nightmares without a heads-up.
Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem in this instance, as being brought up on a nutritious diet of horror films and The X-Files took care of the desensitising long ago. This book’s sheer relentless bleakness is actually quite impressive, as it means the story doesn’t take all the obvious turns you’d expect if you’ve read or watched more supernatural detective fiction than is good for you.
When it comes to other aspects though, you’re going to need a spare biro if you’re working through the whole cliche checklist.
“This room was much like the rest of his home: unkempt, filthy, and unlivable by most people’s standards.”
Drew Schweitzer, P.I., is a relatable hardboiled detective, because we’ve seen so many like him before. Broken by life, the alcoholic ex-cop finds a new reason to bother unsticking himself from the dirty sofa in the morning when he’s given the case of finding a kidnapped young girl – the symbol of all that’s pure and worth fighting for in this horrendous world of ours.
It’s not a very long book – more an episode of a grim anthology TV series than a movie – but there’s still time to fit in plenty of familiar stock characters like the ex-cop’s buddy partner, the concerned maternal doctor, the kindly priest and the crazy junkie. There’s another prominent character too, whose true identity is only fully clarified at the end, so I won’t spoilt it. But let’s say it’s been done.
“A storm was coming…”
So it’s not the most original mystery in the world, but it’s a well-written one. The dialogue’s natural and the perpetually inclement weather sets the appropriate ominous tone. That’s another cliche in itself, but some of these things are overused because they work so well.
Whether there really needed to be so much gore is down to the individual reader’s taste, but at least it’s only on the page rather than on a screen, so we can’t actually see it. Makes it worse, doesn’t it?