🙂 🙂 😐
Ten-year-old Ella Williams has been abducted and is being held prisoner. She’s the third girl to go missing – the previous two have been murdered, dressed in white dresses of the kind worn by inmates of the old Foundlings Hospital, and their bodies left in cardboard boxes. The murders mirror those of psychopathic killer Louis Kinsella, now a resident in Northwood – a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane – and each time a victim is killed, the killer sends a token to Kinsella. Time is running out for Ella, and it’s up to psychologist Alice Quentin to get inside Kinsella’s mind and find out what he knows before it’s too late.
This is the third in the Alice Quentin series, and I’ve enjoyed the previous ones. As before, Alice is a likeable protagonist and Rhodes is very strong at creating a sense of place. In this one, Alice has moved away from central London to take up a research post at Northwood. It is nearly Christmas and England is in the grip of a huge freeze, and Rhodes gives a very good sense of snow and ice adding difficulties to all parts of the investigation.
Unfortunately the plot doesn’t match up to the atmosphere. It’s so similar to The Silence of the Lambs that comparisons must be made, and they don’t work in this one’s favour. Kinsella is no Hannibal Lecter and Alice is a pale shadow of Clarice Starling. The story is split between Alice’s first person past tense narrative and Ella’s story, told as third person present tense. There’s really very little to the plot – psychopathic killer copycatting another one, investigation wears on with nothing much happening till the big (unbelievable) thriller ending. So the book is padded out with Alice’s social life – she keeps telling us she’s working every hour to save poor Ella (quietly freezing and starving away in the background) but she manages to fit in three parties, several nights in the pub and a couple of love interests – all this in the space of a couple of weeks. No wonder she’s emotionally drained.
Don, the detective in charge of the case and, of course, one of the love interests, has to be made to look incredibly stupid to explain why he doesn’t do basic things, like interview the staff at Northwood (his reason being they must have been vetted before they got the job, so they can’t possibly be doing anything wrong, can they?), or not searching places because the owners tell him there’s no need. It galls me somewhat when the police are made to look incompetent for no reason other than to string a story out.
And I’m afraid I also found the ages of the victims made the plot distasteful. Why it should feel worse to read about a five-year old child being cruelly abused and murdered than a twenty-year-old-girl, I’m not sure. I reckon we have it programmed into our genes that we owe more protection to the young, even when they’re fictional. But whatever the reason, it left a very unpleasant after-taste. Without wishing to get too psychobabbly, somehow descriptions of abuse and violence towards children in a book that is trying to say something meaningful about a serious subject are bearable. But when they’re done purely for ‘entertainment’, I don’t find them so. And this book falls into the latter category.
Personally, I think the serial killer motif has been done now, and child-killing serial killers especially so. But hey! As I usually do, I’ve had a look to see what other people are saying and the book is getting 5-star reviews all round, so I guess it must be me! There’s no doubt it’s well written in terms of characterisation and atmosphere, so I guess if this is the kind of thing you like, then you’ll like this.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, St Martin’s Press.