“Can you imagine a world without men? No crime, and lots of fat happy women.”Nicole Hollander
Here is a chilling book about male violence. It is written by a man, though it offers as grim a depiction of the male psyche as any I have read from the most radical end of feminist rhetoric. Beware. There’s an awful lot of men in the world and they’re not at all nice.
Oh come on! I hear you say. It’s a book about two serial killers – meat and bread of crime fiction, nothing more: what did you expect?
OK – let’s gets that pair over with. No doubt they will be the focus for most reviewers, so let me be perverse and treat them briskly, the better to focus on the world behind them. There’s Jason. He kills because he’s damaged, he’s autistic, and killing helps him to feel better. Especially when people annoy him. He’s a helpful lad. He thinks he’s making the world a better place. And there’s Howard. He kills because he’s a psychopath. He enjoys the power of cruelty, the more brutal the better. He finds it sexually arousing to torture a woman to death. He’s a nasty piece of work.
But who else does this author give us? Who else populates the world that he creates? Who is there to deal with this double dose of serial homicide?
There’s a weary, middle aged policeman, with a macabre humour and at most a residual interest in justice. Some other policemen, less well defined, but generally unsympathetic – smirking and cracking sick jokes in the midst of tragedy. A drug dealer. A paedophile ex-headmaster. A violent abusive boyfriend. A prostitute’s bullying customer. Boys at school who teased our hero… I could go on. It’s unremitting.
And behind them all there are fathers. Jason generally thinks of his father as he kills people: it is clear who he is killing in his head. Jason’s father was a brutal, sadistic criminal – perhaps a bit like Howard. Then there’s Howard’s father – drunk, uncaring and violent. The bullying father of Jason’s ephemeral girlfriend. The abandoning, brutal father of one of Howards victims. The murdering father of a little boy found dead in a swimming pool. Even Ames, the policeman, stands in the shadow of a cold indifferent father incapable of connecting with his son. By the end of this book, I felt I was being carried along in an unending tide of damaged, brutal, disconnected men, and their damaged, brutal disconnected sons.
Women barely figure in this story. There is a brief encounter with a kindly mothering volunteer; a fleeting tenderness with a one night stand; a few harassed mothers doing their inadequate best; a wife left alone at home while the policeman works late; a middle aged teacher’s impulsive, futile attempt to protect a young pupil; Jason’s momentary connection to a little girl he rescues – before she too disappears back into a world of abuse. There is a kind of yearning here, a disbelieving glimpse of a possibility of a different, kinder way of being human. But mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, sisters: in this novel they are all washed away in the inexorable tide of damaged, damaging men.
A friend of mine, a doctor, is fond of referring to the Y chromosome as “the broken one” – the fault at the heart of the human condition. She also refers to autism, from which one of our protagonists clearly suffers, as “maleness on steroids”, and psychopathy, the problem of the other, as “maleness with vindaloo”. At the heart of both conditions there is an absence of connection, of empathy, a desperate, grandiose, self absorbed aloneness from which all of the men in this grim book seem to suffer. So perhaps this author agrees with her.
What a bleak world he has summoned up!
He has done it expertly. The book is fantastically well-written, compelling, absorbing, immersive. By the end I felt myself sinking into his toxic confection as if there were nothing outside it, as if the world were, indeed, as bleak as he depicts it. He nearly persuaded me.
Thank god for the many men in my life, as diverse and as fine and as tender and as funny as the women. Thank god for the women too. Thank god for the pestering cat even – by the end of this book I was ready to take connection wherever I could find it.
I will give this book 4 stars because it is consummately written and so nearly achieves its goal. But then I will put it away and be pleased not to open it again or to look for a sequel. Perhaps I have stayed too long in this world of dark books that has intrigued me so much. Perhaps it’s a boy’s world really. I may join the Women’s Institute and start making jam.
Review by De Gevallene
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This review was undertaken as part of a Blackthorn Book Tour. I bought the book myself.