Thriller author Cleave (The Laughter House, 2012, etc.) opens the door on the haunted history of his disgraced detective Theo Tate.
In this dark mystery, originally published in New Zealand in 2008, Cleave presents Tate’s earlier narrative to North American readers. Once with Christchurch police, Tate is now a private detective. He’s a man eaten up with grief, a man battling anger, depression and guilt with alcohol and self-isolation. Tate’s daughter died in a car-pedestrian accident, and his wife rests in a convalescent center, catatonic from a brain injury suffered during that tragedy. After the accident, Tate "fell into the abyss," with this novel a first-person narrative of his ongoing battle with existential despair. The novel opens with Tate being hired to look into a death he ignored while a police detective. Henry Martins is two years dead, but his daughter always believed he was murdered. Since Martins’ widow, remarried, has had another husband die, Tate has secured an exhumation order so that Martins’ corpse may be autopsied. But Martins’ body isn’t in his coffin. It’s among several grave robbed and tossed into a nearby lake, all to find spaces for a serial killer’s victims. Cleave is a powerful writer, conjuring a malevolent atmosphere, creating a relentless momentum propelling Tate deeper into a moral swamp. However, given Cleave’s psychological insight, it’s ironic the narrative catalysts—a priest and the serial killer—are the two least-defined among the story’s characters. Others among the attending cast are magnificently drawn, including the retired cemetery caretaker, a malignant drunk with dark secrets and a discredited television reporter willing to manipulate sound bites in a vendetta against Tate.
Contemporary crime noir at its best, mined from the dark pit of the human psyche.