Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.
This is the debut novel from Mark Roberts and shows much promise. An unusual plot and short chapters kept my turning the pages in one reading.
The story begins in the middle of an investigation as a heavily pregnant woman,
Julia Caton, is abducted from her home by a mystery intruder. A serial killer is on the loose in London and she will be his fifth victim. He is known as Herod as he only abducts pregnant women, removes the foetuses from them in an ‘unbirthing’ ceremony and then dumps the womens’ bodies in various London locations
DCI Rosen is desperate for a breakthrough but the only link between the victims is that they were all pregnant. However, this time the killer has left several clues. The rundown, neglected house next door has been broken into and the shared loft space along the terrace of houses is how he gained access to the Catons’ house. But the part mummified corpse in the bed yields more. The elderly woman, initially thought to have died from natural causes, was actually murdered 18 months ago and left to rot in the bed. Rosen realises that this was no random attack and that Herod must have been connected with her in some way. Rosen’s persistent digging, despite pressure from his superior to drop it, reveals that she fostered children in the past before suddenly stopping. Meanwhile Herod is looking for his sixth victim in order to complete his ritual and DCI Rosen’s wife is also pregnant after being told that she couldn’t have any more children.
The investigation then takes another unexpected turn when, out of the blue, Father Sebastian Flint, contacts Rosen with a possible and disturbing motive for Herod’s murders which are connected to a mysterious magician in the 1600’s named Alessio and the Devil’s version of the Bible. Initially sceptical, Rosen looks again at the locations where the victims’ bodies were dumped and realises that they form the letter A.
However, Rosen remained a somewhat shadowy figure but perhaps he’s a character that Roberts intends to develop in subsequent novels. However, the well worn elements of a bullying boss, Baxter, and a quisling member on his own team were far less convincing. Baxter was too cardboard and felt as though he was an afterthought . This is an overused theme and appears in too many crime novels most notably in the Scarpetta series. I also felt that Herod was difficult to visualise.
Roberts is a writer who definitely has talent. I found the scene in which Julia Caton is killed by Herod very poignant and the horror of her death and her unborn child was well-evoked without being gratuitous. The novel’s main theme of lost lives or lives cut short is also handled well although perhaps it was a little too much to have Rosen’s background also include a cot death.
However, at times in the novel, I was unsure if this was a supernatural novel or a crime novel and the author needed to make this clear as in certain sections it seemed to fall uneasily between the two. I was also uncertain of Herod’s ultimate goal with the foetuses and why Father Flint had initiated contact with Rosen. The climax also seemed very rushed after Roberts had built up the suspense so well.