The 50/50 Killer

Written by Steve Mosby

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


The 50/50 Killer
Orion
RRP: £7.99
Released: December 1, 2007
Pbk

Steve Mosby came out of Orion's First Blood promotion of three years back (search the Shots archive for his interview with Mike Stotter at the time); now it is clear he was not a one-off, though each of his three novels (The 50/50 Killer is his third) is a stand-alone. At first appearances this is a serial-killer thriller but then it starts to slipstream, and going back to that Shots interview it is not surprising to read that Steve Mosby came from horror and dark fantasy even if it has been in crime that he has made his print breakthrough.

In a northern city like Leeds or Bradford Mark Nelson joins the murder team run by John Mercer. Nelson quickly has to learn a lot - about the previous ghastly killings of The 50/50 Killer and about Mercer, his breakdown following a previous attempt to catch the psycho and his return to work. The killer it is clear stalks and studies his victims for a long time, living secretly in their homes sometimes, before he takes a couple captive and then tortures them through a night in which one of them must decide that the other is to die. That death and that decision will be in agony. There has been only one exception to the couple rule: the murder of Mercer's police colleague when close to an arrest. That is why Mercer broke down.

Now a case stranger than ever has erupted after a long silence: the 50/50 Killer makes his ghastly intervention not between a couple, but by chance in a threesome. He must kill first one and then force his decision on the remaining pair. Detective Mark Nelson debriefs a man who stumbles out of the forest, feet burned and eye burned out of its socket, trying to force the amnesiac to recall where his missing girlfriend could be, still in the killer's control. Meanwhile, Mercer takes his forces into the forest to make a search, trying not to give up the case. In short chapters Mosby moves between protagonists' points of view.

These are strange woods, these northern woods, like none I know. However, there are more than killers living in them. They are so large that "separatist" forces can make their camps there. And the police are strange police, for Britain at least, with ranks of "Detective" and "Officer". That is why The 50/50 Killer can be described as slipstream: it has a feel half of making itself generic and half of dreamland, unlike anything I have read recently in crime fiction. On the other hand it also shares a characteristic I noticed first in Glenn Meades' The Devil's Disciple published year: - although the killer's tortures are terrible, they are hardly described and the last death mentioned here is almost throw-away. There is a trend developing of turning serial killers into lighter reading, as if they need to be driven by moral imperative of ending torture while only implying the tortures applied, by avoiding concentration on the victims' pain. Perhaps we are seeing the start of a new genre: gru-lite.

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