In Cleave’s (Collecting Cooper, 2011, etc.) third psycho-thriller, Theodore Tate is the quintessential flawed hero, a damaged soul hunting deviants in a forest of moral quandaries.
The disgraced Christchurch detective, released after serving a term for drunken driving, struggles along as a private investigator. Tate meets his friend and detective Carl Schroder at a police funeral and follows him to a boozy wake. A murder is reported, and Tate finds himself the “guy giving a drunk detective a lift to a crime scene.” One murder turns to two, then three, and then a kidnapping of a psychiatrist and his three young daughters. The case’s complexity soon has Tate provisionally returned to duty. The serial assassin, Caleb Cole, is revealed early. Cole’s daughter was brutally assaulted and murdered in an abandoned slaughterhouse, a case where Tate first confronted the hell released by a twisted mind. The novel is less a character study than a dissection of the need for, and cost of, revenge. Cole spent 15 years imprisoned for killing his daughter’s murderer, James Whitby, only to be released obsessed with destroying everyone who played a part in putting Whitby on the streets after his first assault—the defense attorney, jury foreman, defense psychiatrist, character witness. Cleave’s back story follows multiple narrative threads, including one exploring Tate’s own loss of a daughter to a drunken driver, an accident that also left his beloved wife in a coma. That tragedy spurred him to commit his own act of singular revenge, one suspected but never proven, one that opens a window to Cole’s torment. With scenes as shocking as Cole’s amputation of a child’s finger, Cleave’s horrific narrative takes no prisoners, with the bloody action relentlessly ricocheting around Christchurch at a pace that leaves the detectives near collapse and readers sometimes overwhelmed.
An intense and bloody noir thriller, one often descending into a violent abyss reminiscent of Thomas Harris, creator of Hannibal Lecter.