Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Chris Petit

Pub Date: April 7th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45126-9
Publisher: Knopf

Hideously gruesome, malignantly atmospheric by-the-numbers serial killer tale, a more focused, if more predictable, second thriller from Petit (Robinson, 1994). It's 1985 in Northern Ireland, and Royal Ulster Constabulary Detective Inspector Cross is as burned-out as the bombed-out Belfast that surrounds him. Cross, a working-class English Catholic who was transferred to Belfast at the request of his politically connected Irish Protestant wife Deirdre, has just about had it when his wife announces that she is having an affair. Meanwhile, Cross finds solace in the analytical study of crime scenes, like that of a frozen, toothless male corpse that two joyriding teenagers discover along a highway. The corpse shows signs of torture, and, to complicate matters, Cross finds his investigation getting unwarranted attention from sleazy British counterintelligence agents. A scrap of paper planted in the corpse's pants pocket refers to a biblical passage and, even before the next in a series of horribly mutilated victims turns up, Cross is on the trail of a religiously inspired homicidal maniac called Candlestick (a prologue shows Candlestick initiated into his grisly specialty by a woman who finds murder erotic). Petit's Belfast is a petri dish of perversion, mayhem, and moral depravity, so it's no surprise when Cross discovers that Candlestick's talents just might have been useful to his superiors in the past. He also finds time for a brief fling with his young, tough-but-beautiful assistant, Wendy. When Candlestick kidnaps one of Cross's children to force a confrontation, Wendy cleverly disrobes, distracting the killer so that Cross can win the battle but, in an ironic twist, lose the war against the satanic political types who see Candlestick as part of a larger, drearier game. Relentlessly depressing rewrite of a rainy-day le CarrÇ spy story. The author includes an annotated bibliography to support his claim that some of his formulaic tale is true.