Think vigilante killers have it easy? Cleave offers a macabre, compelling demonstration of how Murphy’s Law dogs the efforts of ex-cop Carl Schroder to give victims of violent crime the five minutes alone they crave with the criminals who’ve ruined their lives.
Even more than Carl’s earlier cases (Joe Victim, 2013, etc.), this one is a catalog of the profoundly damaged souls who throng Christchurch, New Zealand. Kelly Summers has never been the same since she was stabbed and raped five years ago. Carl’s old partner, DI Theodore Tate, spent months in a coma before emerging to a shaky second chance. Tate’s wife, Bridget, still has days when she thinks her daughter Emily, killed by a drunk driver her husband secretly executed, is still alive and panics because she can’t find her. Most damaged of all is Carl, who, having lost the ability to feel most emotions, keeps woodenly telling himself, “Why was anything.” When Kelly’s rapist, Dwight Smith, gets released from prison and promptly goes after Kelly to finish the job he started five years ago, Carl is on hand to stop him. That’s where the good news ends, for once Carl offers Kelly her five minutes alone with Cowboy Dwight, the rest of this long, winding tale becomes an encyclopedia of all the things that can go wrong once you’ve embarked on a career of meting out summary justice. You can forget to conceal vital evidence against yourself. Your friends can suspect what you’re doing and be deeply ambivalent about how to react. You can pick the wrong people to execute, either because they’re not really guilty or because they’re capable of fighting back. The car you’re using to transport a victim’s body can run out of gas. It’s Murphy’s Law written in blood.
“All of this killing has made him feel,” Carl’s exhilarated to realize. Readers following him through this season of Breaking Bad reworked by the Coen Brothers will feel the whole gamut right along with him.