Hall, Simon - 'The Death Pictures'
This is a compelling thriller, the momentum of which grows on you as you read it. In addition like his previous book, A POPULAR MURDER, it contains a puzzle central to the plot.
I am often very frustrated by books where you can guess the plot early on; it took me until 30 pages from the end before I had really unpicked the underlying plot, but I did not solve everything. This is a procedural with a difference, as it combines police procedure with that of the TV reporting process. There are some dark notes in the methods of both.
A serial rapist is stalking single mothers in the suburban streets of Portsmouth, assaulting them and leaving a memento behind as he leaves. Police, anxious to stop him, draw in their local crime reporter, Dan Groves, who feeds edited highlights to his ever hungry news editor as well as doing a little sleuthing on the side for his friend DCI Adam Breen. Adam, fuelled by the memory of his raped sister, is willing to go all out to catch the perpetrator and not afraid of cutting a few corners to get him.
More interesting to Dan, however, is the puzzle set by dying artist Joseph McCluskey, a series of ten paintings hiding a mysterious secret; the prize, an original of the last painting, worth thousands. Intrigued by the nature of the artist, whom he interviews at the unveiling of his last picture, he is drawn unwillingly into the riddle along with thousands of others. His fascination is increased by McCluskey's murder and apparent links with the rape scenes. When not reporting the progress of the police, his spare time gets spent surrounded by the ten pictures and chasing red herrings around the locale.
This book has many elements, from the intriguing puzzle concealed within the paintings to the rather sad insight into the plight of fathers' access to children during separation, including that of Adam Breen and his son. Dan, ironically, seems to find a committed relationship with a woman difficult, which contrasts with his apparent ability to interview the rape victims and create sensitive news stories around crime. Adam, on the other hand, lacks the ability to disconnect when it comes to victims and his own staff, which often leaves him little emotional energy with his own family.
A really interesting and challenging read. I spent some time trying to part solve the pictorial puzzle from the descriptions alone, but then gave up and went with the story. I look forward to his next book.
Amanda Brown, England