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Black Static

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The Late Review: Spider

23rd Nov, 2022

Author: Peter Tennant

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TV producer Michael Morley turned his hand to writing in 2008 with Spider (Penguin pb), the book's title being the name that the infamous Black River Killer refers to himself by. In a reign of terror spanning twenty years he has murdered over sixteen young women, with the authorities seemingly powerless to stop him. Jack King, the FBI's star profiler, collapsed after heading up the enquiry for five years. Now King, wife Nancy and three year old son Zack have retired to Tuscany, running a boutique hotel. An old friend in the Italian police force lures him out of retirement when a young woman is murdered and details of the case bear an uncanny resemblance to the methods of the BRK. Back in the US the skull of the BRK's first victim has been dug up and sent to Jack King care of the FBI. The BRK kidnaps Lu, a Russian prostitute, and leaves her imprisoned to die of starvation in a house booby trapped with explosives, with scenes broadcast on the internet. He is intent on playing a deadly game with King, whether Jack wants to play or not.

This is a ferociously fast paced thriller, with events ping ponging back and forth between Italy and the US, and shown from various perspectives - that of Jack, Nancy, Italian and US police officials, Spider and Ludmilla, the paparazzi Terry. Each of these characters is fully drawn, with distinguishing traits and the evocation of a life beyond the page (e.g. FBI agent Howie's marital problems). Many of the people manage to surprise by exceeding expectation, as with the strong willed Ludmilla, whose courage and tenacity impress even though she is trapped in an all but hopeless situation, and Terry who in the final furlough proves to be entirely different from the person we have been led to believe him to be.

The progress of the police investigation also has the ring of truth about it, with a wealth of detail and each step in the enquiry carefully plotted, so that you can believe in the way in which the police discover Spider's lair, even if he planned that they should do so. The contrast between the US and Italy is drawn with real verve, so that we appreciate the hustle and bustle, the sheer urgency of the former, against the serious but laid back attitude and beauty of the latter.

I have some quibbles. Jack King brings too much to mind Will Graham from Thomas Harris' oeuvre. Jack's blackouts don't serve much purpose except to remind us that the case made him ill and artificially ramp up the tension, while the way in which he appears to be catnip for assorted women got on my nerves (that may be jealousy speaking). A timely arrival by Detective Orsetta seemed like a plot convenience - her visit is foreshadowed, but how she got to the right place at the right time could have done with a tad more explication. The idea that Spider will gleefully murder women for twenty years before seeking to settle past scores stretches credibility. And finally he is a trust fund baby, given which it's hard to believe he was consigned to an orphanage after his father's death. Minor details though, and overall I found this book a compulsive read, one that I stayed up late to finish, with a gripping plot and moments of pure horror as the killer goes about his business.

 

 

 

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