Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: Broken Dolls by James Carol

Broken Dolls by James Carol, January 2014, 400 pages, Faber & Faber , ISBN: 0571302734

Reviewed by Michelle Peckham.
(Read more of Michelle's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

This is billed as the first in a new set of novels featuring an ex-FBI profiler, Jefferson Winter. A haunted man, as he is the son of a serial killer, arrested when he was just 11, leaving his mark on Jefferson, not only because of what he did, but because as Jefferson watched him being executed, he had one last set of words for his son 'we’re the same’. And this was just one of many reasons why Jefferson left the FBI and went solo.

Eighteen months on, working privately as a profiler, Jefferson arrives in London to help an old colleague, DI Hatcher, try to catch another serial offender. However, this time, the ‘unsub’ (unknown suspect) doesn’t kill his victims, he captures them, and keeps them somewhere for several months, while he tortures them. Then he finally performs some sort of lobotomy operation, and dumps them. The victims are in effect living corpses, with no memory or ability to engage with their surroundings. The latest victim is the fourth one in a row, and after sixteen months of investigating all four victims, Hatcher is getting nowhere. Moreover, the gap between dumping the victims and selecting a new one is getting shorter. Time is against them as it becomes clear that someone else is already about to become another victim, and hence Hatcher’s request for Jefferson’s help.

And so the game begins. Jefferson works with Hatcher and the rest of his team to try to form a profile of the killer, through piecing together any similarities between the victims, how they are being selected, finding out how the lobotomies are performed (without any scarring to the skull), if there are any patterns in where the victims are abducted from, and then dumped and so on.

Intervening chapters provide the victim’s view of the abduction and what follows. Rachel Morris, an attractive brunette with an unfaithful husband, has been instant messaging someone called Adam, and is planning to go out that evening to meet him for the first time. She takes off her wedding ring, and sits in a bar, nursing a glass of wine while waiting for him to arrive. After an hour or so, he hasn’t turned up, or texted or contacted her to say why he’s late. But, as she leaves, he comes running towards her, apologetic, with many excuses, and she makes the fatal mistake of getting into his car.

The plot device of bringing together the investigation on one side, with Rachel’s experience at the hands of her abductor is an effective one. Instantly, the reader feels a lot of sympathy for Rachel, and silently wills the investigators to make rapid progress so that they can catch the abductor and rescue her before she meets the same fate as the previous four victims. Jefferson’s character is that of a super-hero, who somehow manages to pick clues out of almost thin air, and slowly work his way towards finding Rachel, albeit occasionally using some rather unconventional methods. Hatcher is the archetypal harried cop, desperate for a solution, no matter what it takes. And there is another character, DS Sophie Templeton, who is part of Hatcher’s team. A stunning blonde to whom Jefferson is attracted even though he knows he is not the kind of person ‘cheerleader’ types like Sophie would normally go for (as Jefferson is the ‘geek’). A little bit of gender stereotyping there unfortunately, and it’s not hard to guess where the story might go with Sophie later on in the book. That said, this was a rapid fire read for me, and I enjoyed it enough to forgive the slightly off kilter ending, where we discover the truth about the unsub, and his motivations. Not for the squeamish, or for those who don’t like women as victims, but an interesting twist on the serial offender crime novel for those who like this kind of thing.

Michelle Peckham, February 2014

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