A debut novel takes a definite stand on the nature-versus-nurture argument.
In his thriller, Bathgate comes down firmly on the side of nature. The villain in his story is born evil, the son of a violent criminal, and can’t overcome that, despite having a loving, if deeply scarred, mother. Jim Doyle grows up sheltered by his mother and other relatives. Still, because of his temper, people keep getting hurt around him. The Scotsman finds an appropriate outlet for his aggression by joining the Parachute Regiment. But trouble follows him, which inhibits his military career. Bathgate’s protagonist, Tom Mitchell, meets Jim after one such incident, when Tom is nearing the end of his hitch as a military policeman. Jim is badly injured following a bar altercation; one of the locals was killed. Tom suspects Jim, a karate expert, intentionally murdered the man, but the official ruling is self-defense. Tom leaves the military and sets up an investigative agency for businesses in his hometown of Edinburgh. He discovers that Jim has also left the service and moved there, starting his own karate studio. Suspicious of Jim, Tom looks him up: “Beneath the apparent shyness and reserve, Tom suspected that Doyle had a vicious temper and a propensity for violent behaviour.” Tom makes the mistake of introducing Jim to his younger sister, Margaret. But when Jim and Margaret draw closer, Tom has to find out the truth about this man. Bathgate has crafted an engrossing narrative that reveals how many people ultimately can be affected by one violent event. He effectively relates the histories of Tom and Jim to show how they became the men they are now. The author delivers well-constructed main characters in Jim, Tom, and Margaret. He illustrates how Jim just can’t resist the urges ingrained in him by his rapist father, despite his mother’s best intentions, and how Tom doggedly pursues the truth, in part to protect his sister. Some readers may place higher value on nurturing, but Bathgate effectively makes the argument that Jim was predestined to become a monster. The result is a chilling portrait of a predator.
A worthwhile examination of the evil that lurks beneath one man’s placid exterior.