Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Still Waters (hardcover, $23.95), by Nigel McCrery

Oh, boy, oh, boy! Another creepy, dark, British serial killer mystery!

I've been reading a lot of these lately. Okay, so one was actually set in Canada (The Calling, by Inger Ash Wolfe). And another wasn't a serial killer (In the Woods, by Tana French). And another took place in Slovakia and France (Siren of the Waters, by Michael Genelin). But they were all dark and creepy.

Moving right along.

This U.S. debut novel is satisfying on so many levels. The writing is energized and well-paced. The main character, DCI Mark Lapslie, has an interesting gimmick going for him: He is disabled by synaesthesia, a confusion of the senses. In his case, he can taste sounds. Because his disorder has intensified, he is semi-permanently off the job when the story opens. The serial killer, who is introduced very early, has a back story that unwinds in a twisty way, even though the reader can make a basic assumption from the prologue. Put these elements together and it makes for a magnificently chilly read.

When Lapslie is dragged back into the fray -- and the ultimate reason for having him dragged back in may be the only weak point in the book, but IMO, it doesn't detract from the storyline -- he acquires interesting work companions, including his new assistant, DS Emma Bradbury. Upon learning he has synaesthesia, she asks if she tastes like anything. Oh, you know what I mean, she says, blushing. He says her voice tastes like lemon and grapefruit if she's in a good mood, lemon and lime if she's not. Mostly, however, his disorder is crippling, not charming. For instance, the cacophony of his workplace tastes like blood.

McCrery doesn't drown the reader in synaesthesia anecdotes, so the book clips along at a good pace. It's hard to forget that center stage belongs to an elderly woman stalking and killing lonely, elderly women. Her madness gives her the clarity, which she combines with a brilliant tactical ability, to pursue and bag her targets undetected. It is only the accidental uncovering of one of her victims that jeopardizes her plan.

It is the balanced mix of quirky characters, an interesting storyline, and the author's fine descriptive capability that makes this a great tale to read as the nights grow longer.

More, Mr. McCreary, I say.

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