Thomas & Mercer | 2019
Filed Under: If Sherlock Holmes lacked a personality.
*Shakes fist at sky* I just want to read a legitimately complex female character! Just one!
Okay, so I liked this and it’s also a disappointment in some big ways at the same time, so… *fart noises*
Here goes my ranty review. I’ll try to highlight the positive stuff, but we all know that’s not my strong suit.
I could give some line about my expectations being too high when it comes to female-led crime fiction, or it’s not the book, it’s me, but I won’t because I refuse to apologize for wanting to find a female character who isn’t desperately crippled by a man in some way that doesn’t allow for robust characterization to occur outside of what revolves around that man. It’s fucking annoying me at this point.
Ziba MacKenzie is former special forces and an expert criminal profiler. SPECIAL FUCKING FORCES. She has a huge brain stuffed with lots of knowledge that is both practical and theoretical. Like, she can recite facts about serial killers but can also save lives in dire situations.
When the novel opens, Ziba is on a commuter train telling the reader things about every passenger like she’s the modern reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes. That woman is holding her stomach, she’s pregnant. That man is jostling his leg and has yellow-tipped fingers, so he’s just quit smoking and is having a hard time with it. Etc, etc. Then there’s an explosion and people are fucking dying on this train and Ziba is quick to act to stop a victim’s bleeding and hold someone’s hand while they die.
It was a pretty intense way to open a book. It showcased both parts of Ziba’s skill sets and also set up a major part of the serial killer crime to follow. Me likey.
After the explosion, a Scotland Yard task force is hunting The Lacerator – the worst serial killer in UK history who has been dormant for 25 years – and the lead copper asks for Ziba’s help. She’s reluctant to do it because she’s still grieving the death of her husband, the love of her life.
I want to preface this complaint by saying being a wife in any form and having feelings towards that relationship does not inherently make a character weak or disappointing. In this situation, being a grieving wife could have been a really interesting addition to Ziba’s character – how she deals with it, how she’s moving on, what her grieving process looks like while she’s in the midst of trying to catch an evil killer. The grieving process is an excellent setup to introduce a character’s defining inner qualities – strength, mental fortitude, and resilience. Or even the lack thereof. She could be a goddamn mess, that would be something worth exploring as well.
Alas, the treatment this is given is that Ziba can only start to move on from the death of her husband through a romance subplot. This flirty, uncomfortable, forced romance is what gives Ziba the push she needs to get back into the real world. Yes, it’s the “a new man as a saviour” trope.
And now, me no likey.
I would have really loved to watch a special forces badass bitch learn to stand on her own again; to honour her deceased husband by carrying on with her life, coming to grips with her pain and her loss and finding a way to keep going. But instead, we get the knight rescuing the damsel in distress from her feels.
Fucking shoot me.
When it comes to the mystery, it heavily revolves around religion, schizophrenia and themes of pedophilia. Which, let’s be honest, all go hand-in-hand with each other – they’re like PB and J, or salt and pepper, or Scully and Mulder. Dark religious themes always lend themselves well to crime fiction.
The mystery aspect of the story was well-done. It wasn’t necessarily anything that will blow your bits off, but it was interesting and layered and contained plenty of clues for the reader to play with. In terms of a procedural, it was what you would want – save for the very obvious red herrings that just felt like the author was saying “hey, look over here at this shiny thing!” There was a lack of finesse on display in that aspect of the writing. And the style, despite themes of grief and death, was also missing that important emotional element.
The only other drawback would be that the author seemed to have an uncontrollable habit of forcing “serial killer facts” down the reader’s throat. Maybe someone picking up a crime fiction novel for the first time would have no idea what profiling is or how serial killers function, but I’d say the vast majority of us get it and don’t need the information spoonfed to us so obviously.
Sometimes it felt like I was reading a research paper, or textbook, instead of a natural conversation between cops. I didn’t need the author to teach me about such a broad subject so blatantly, and I’m sure most readers would feel this way. What I needed to be taught was about the specific killer in this book and what his motivations were – and that was done well. Everything else was just show-offy filler that really isn’t that special to show off anymore. You can’t turn around without being hit in the head with another true-crime documentary or podcast. Even my dog could recite a fact or two about killers.
The cops Ziba works with behave as if they’ve never heard of a profiler before. While that leaves the door open for Ziba to make use of her Sherlockian powers of observation for an “ohhh burn!” scene, it was also ridiculous to think that present-day law enforcement (who are hunting the worst serial killer in UK history) would have no idea what Ziba’s job description is or why she’s been brought in to help.
It all felt like an excuse for Ziba to make striking comments, show off her skills and have “badass” moments that proved she was useful and important to the task force. But the vibe was totally contrived and cheesy, like some CSI: Miami shit.
Instead of imbuing Ziba with a full personality that could have allowed for dialogue and interaction to flow more naturally, we are instead offered a shell of a character who spews factoids every time she opens her mouth and blushes around her crush, while simultaneously being unable to function whenever her dead husband invades her thoughts. And those “badass” moments are required to show some part of her that isn’t tied up in those three things. This didn’t really add any depth or meaningful character development.
Selman is clearly a stickler for details, and in the end, I felt this worked to the detriment of the story. Small plot points and red herrings were overexplained which killed the pacing and again felt a little like being spoonfed the micro aspects of the plot.
But the larger, macro plot holes – like how a John Doe with zero identity information, and a severe mental health issue, would ever be able to leave a psych hospital on his own recognizance, or where he got the money for his heavy drug habit – were left unanswered.
This wasn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not what it could have been. Mainly because the character of Ziba was not executed in a way that agreed with me. But there was promise and intrigue to the procedural elements, so give it a try if you’re so inclined.
Ziba Mackenzie profiles killers. Now one is profiling her.
Rush hour, London. A packed commuter train is torn apart in a collision. Picking through the carnage, ex-special forces profiler Ziba MacKenzie helps a dying woman who passes on a cryptic message: He did it. You have to tell someone.
When a corpse is found bearing the gruesome signature of a serial killer dormant for twenty-five years, Ziba is pulled into the hunt for the perpetrator. As the body count rises it becomes clear he’s on a new spree. But what’s brought the London Lacerator back after such a long hiatus? And does his sudden return have anything to do with the woman on the train?
Ziba scrambles to profile the killer in the hope of predicting his next move. But time is running out. And the closer she gets to uncovering his identity, the closer he gets to destroying hers.