A high-profile treasure hunt monopolizes headlines as a serial killer roams the London streets in Chancellor’s (The Forgotten Echo, 2012, etc.) thriller.
Callum Relph, a wealthy American expatriate in England, posts a YouTube video of himself burying what he claims is the legendary sword Excalibur. To find it, citizens must decipher clues using the ExcaliburQuest app, or they could happen upon one of seven golden tickets hidden around the country, each worth £500,000. If the puzzle remains unsolved in five days, the seven ticket holders will be brought to the area where the sword’s hidden and compete to dig it up. Meanwhile, Detective Chief Inspector Frank Moke is working a murder case in which the killer severed the victim’s thumbs—the same M.O. as a serial killer called “Scissorman,” who hasn’t been active in nearly 20 years. Back then, Moke arrested a man who went to prison for the murders of six girls, although the high court subsequently acquitted him on appeal, due to questionable evidence. The detective gets help in the present-day case from rookie police officer Morgan Luttrell, and she and Moke soon determine that the killer’s latest murder may have been inspired by ongoing media coverage of the Excalibur game. Despite its length, Chancellor’s tale maintains a steady pace throughout. The characters’ backstories gradually unfold in snippets, rather than as prolonged exposition. Various mysteries about specific characters develop over the course of the story; the public knows little about Relph, Luttrell keeps a secret from Moke, and it’s revealed that George Eagle, a profiler who worked the older case, later had “some kind of breakdown.” Intermittent scenes from the killer’s perspective become more unnerving in the novel’s latter half, when he’s holding someone captive for a frighteningly unclear purpose. This is Chancellor’s first adult thriller (he previously wrote children’s books) and although it’s occasionally violent, it more often relies on atmosphere. A description of an old crime scene, for instance, merely hints at earlier savagery: “The dark patch of dried blood in the middle of the carpet was still covered by a sheet of plastic.”
A moody and absorbing detective story.