Michael Robotham usually just boggles my mind; this time he has twisted and mashed it up as well. That's probably fitting, since psychologist Joe O'Loughlin's nemesis in this fourth book in Robotham's series is a person who clearly understands how to manipulate minds. Let me start with this quote from near the end of the book – don't worry, it doesn't give the game away. Joe's nemesis is speaking:
"[T]here is a moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectation, all faith, all desire. I own that moment....And that's when I hear the sound....The sound of a mind breaking. It's not a loud crack like when bones shatter or a spine fractures or a skull collapses. And it's not something soft and wet like a broken heart. It's a sound that makes you wonder how much hurt can be visited upon one person; a sound that shatters the strongest of wills and makes the past leak into the present; a sound so high only the hounds of hell can hear it."
I wouldn't consider Robotham to be a writer of thrillers, that cinematic, race-to-the-end sort of book that starts your pulse pounding and the midnight oil burning. Even though that's what this book is. He is an intelligent, literate writer, who can write character and plot, and begin and end a book properly. To be certain, he does that in this book, but there is a higher than normal "yuck" factor as well. Is there a Thomas Harris/Patricia Cornwell/Chelsea Cain contest I don't know anything about? Here's the trick: most of the disturbing stuff is mental. Robotham exquisitely leads the reader into the psychology of terror.
To summarize Robotham's series so far: Suspect is from the point of view of psychologist Joe O'Loughlin; Lost is from the viewpoint of Vincent Ruiz, a police inspector; and The Night Ferry stars Ali Barba, a young police detective. How is that a series? They are all characters in Robotham's London world; they pop in and out of each other's series. Shatter returns to the first-person, present-tense narrative of Joe O'Loughlin.
Joe has moved to the countryside to give his family a better place to live, to give his Parkinson's disease a rest, to change from a consulting psychologist to a psychology professor at the local college. As in all good thrillers, all seems remarkably placid and well at the beginning. Hell breaks loose when Joe is asked to help talk down a woman who is threatening to jump from a bridge. He is unsuccessful in saving her but is convinced the woman did not want to jump, that she was "made" to jump. With a push from the woman's teenage daughter and the assistance of retired detective Ruiz, Joe persists in convincing the police that her jump was really murder.
I think Robotham is a genius. In O'Loughlin, Robotham has not created a lovable, sympathetic character. Joe is self-absorbed and arrogant sometimes, and I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to kick him in the pants. He is a complex and inviting character, as are Ruiz and Barba. Because of the subject matter (children are involved) and intensity, this book is not for the faint of heart. I can't wait for the next one.