In his latest noir thriller, Cleave (Cemetery Lake, 2013, etc.) again stumbles into the evil environs of contemporary Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Christchurch Carver, whose tale began in Cleave’s The Cleaner, has been jailed. The Carver, posing as "Slow" Joe, worked as a police station janitor—when he wasn’t bloodletting on Christchurch’s streets. Now he calls himself Joe Victim, claiming no memory of the murders. The story unfolds with references to his rampage woven into the narrative, enough to let this episode work as a stand-alone novel. However, Cleave’s protagonist from other Christchurch thrillers, ex-cop Theo Tate, takes no part. In fact, there’s no hero to root for here, except perhaps guilt-ridden, stressed-out Carl Schroder, once Tate’s partner but now himself fired from the police. Point of view shifts from Joe to Schroder and then to Melissa, whose true name is Natalie Flowers. Natalie has taken on her murdered sister’s identity because, "There is something wrong inside of her, something terribly, terribly wrong." Natalie/Melissa, as thoroughly bloodthirsty as Joe, plans to spring Joe from custody as he is transferred to court. The plot is extraordinarily complex, interspersed with Joe’s manipulative ramblings to prison psychiatrists, which vacillate among reluctant admissions of sexual abuse by an aunt, his claims that he has no memory of murdering, and his fearsome interactions with other deviants, both prisoners and guards, in the prison’s segregation unit. Simultaneously, the disgraced Schroder, employed as consultant to a television psychic, attempts to manipulate Joe while also using his own frayed police connections to locate the body of another police detective. That detective, with his own corrupt history, was another victim of Natalie/Melissa and Joe. The novel is a cringe-worthy exploration of the heart’s dark recesses, with a denouement exploding into mass violence as Natalie/Melissa’s plot to free Joe goes awry amid a rally for restoration of New Zealand’s death penalty.
A little Hannibal Lector. A little Richard von Krafft-Ebing. A lot of gore.