They say I was dead for three thousand and six seconds. They say that when I woke I was different, but I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that my world became a different place once every one of those precious seconds had expired.
No matter how gripping the prologue might have been, when those're the first words you get from a character's POV, you sit up and pay attention.
The Lover is a serial killer just beginning to plague London, and a semi-distracted DI Dominic Bell with his team are making little progress in apprehending him (he's trying his level best not to be distracted by the press and the brass won't let him leave his last operation in the dust). Given that the Lover's technique is improving as the time between kills is decreasing, the pressure is mounting for Bell and the police. One group dissatisfied with their achievements are the members of True Crime London -- a group of True Crime aficionados from (duh) London. Some of them have decided to take matters into their own hands so they'll investigate these crimes themselves -- some for the thrill, some to show up the Police, some to draw attention to the fact that the Police are understaffed and underfunded. Clementine has her own reasons -- she's spent some time studying these people as part of her doctoral work in psychology; she hopes to get a better understanding of online communities through this group and she has a theory about "crowd-sourcing justice" she'd like to establish.
We meet both groups (through Dom's POV and Catherine's) as they begin to look into the third victim of The Lover. The race is on (even if only one group realizes there's a race) to find and put a stop to The Lover. I wouldn't mind more time getting to know the individuals in the respective teams as this goes along -- we do get to know some of the people involved in the investigation a bit, but this book focuses on Dom, Clementine and their hunts -- everyone else doesn't matter as much. I could talk a little more about the context for Dom, Clementine and the hunt for the killer -- but you don't want to know more until you get into this book.
The killer? We learn exactly as much as we need to in order that we know that the right guy has been taken care. He is not the most interesting character in the novel -- I guess he might be, but Marland didn't give us enough detail. This is such a great change from serial killer novels that dwell on the obsessions/fetishes/compulsions/methods of the killer, that seem to relish the opportunity to revel in the depravity. Marland shows us enough to be disturbed and utterly sickened by him, to believe that he's capable of the heinous acts he's guilty of -- and no more. I'm not saying everyone has to write a serial killer this way, but I love that approach.
The protagonists are far more interesting -- possibly more damaged even -- than the killer. They are wonderfully flawed characters and repeatedly -- and I do mean repeatedly -- do things that readers will not want them to -- because it's unwise, stupid, dangerous, unethical, immoral, or all of the above. And as much as I was saying "No, no, don't do that," I was relishing them do that because it meant great things for the book. At times it's almost like Marland wants you to not like Dom or Clementine, maybe even actively dislike them. Set that aside, because you will like them, because they are the protagonists hunting for a serial killer; because despite themselves they are likeable characters; and because they're so well written, with so many layers, and nuances that it's impossible for Marland to fully explore them and you want to know more. Both are in the middle of professional and personal crises as the book opens -- and all of those crises are going to get worse before we leave them (yeah, Dom's professional life is in worse shape than Clementine's and Clementine's been in crisis since just before those 3,006 seconds, so they're not exactly parallel).
Sometimes the police investigation and the True Crime London's investigation dig up the same information at about the same time, but on the whole the two follow very different approaches -- one more methodical, careful and predictable. The other is haphazard, reckless and (at times) criminal. But both get results, and for the reader, we get a full-orbed view of the investigation which is almost as engrossing as the protagonists carrying it out.
The book is able to say a lot about online communities, True Crime (and some of those who love it as a genre), public acts of grief, criminal investigations and the media -- and even a little about memory. All while telling a great story.
While I enjoyed the whole thing, the last quarter of the book was full of surprises that kept me leaning forward in my chair and completely glued to my screen as the plot raced from shock to shock to reveal to [redacted]. There's a reveal that took me utterly by surprise, but made sense when you stopped and thought about it. There's another reveal at the end that seemed fitting but wasn't what you expected -- and it followed an event that I never would've predicted. Oh, and that last sentence? I can't tell you how many times I swiped my Kindle screen trying to get what comes next, unwilling to believe that was it.
I was a fan (almost instantaneously) of Marland's alter ego's Lori Anderson and that series. My Little Eye has made me a fan of the author -- Broadribb, Marland, whatever names she's publishing under, it's an instabuy. This book got its hooks into me straightaway and didn't let go, I resented work and family as they distracted me (however good or pressing the reason) from Clementine and Dom's quests. I can confidently say that I've not read a mystery novel like this one -- and that's not easy this many decades into my love of the genre. I have no idea how Marland's going to follow this one up -- there's no way that book 2 is a repeat of My Little Eye, but beyond that? No clue what she'll be able to do. I don't care -- I just want to read it soon.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work -- I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.