THE CLEANER
Paul Cleave

 


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Random House, Australia, 2006
Reviewed by Kerrie Smith

Joe Middleton knows that the Christchurch Carver did not commit all of the murders attributed to him. Primarily because Joe is the Carver and a murder has been listed that he did not commit. From his vantage point of working in the police station in Christchurch, Joe is able to monitor the Carver investigation and to conduct some of his own. He has access to the conference room where the investigation is being conducted, to the station's computer system, and to the all-important team folders containing case details on individual victims. Detectives and fellow workers do not realise that beneath harmless Slow Joe, as he is known locally, there is a complex, intelligent and opportunistic killer.

Joe has his own 'murder case' containing his knives and other tools of his trade, such as latex gloves, picklocks, and evidence bags. He revisits the place of the murder he did not commit, and looks for clues about the copy-cat killer. He is adept at breaking and entering, steals cars with ease, and chooses his victims carefully. Physically strong, he moves bodies from where he kills them to where he intends them to be discovered.

The majority of novels in this genre are written from the point of view of the investigators. There only a few brave authors who try to depict things from the killer's point of view: THE CLEANER, Paul Cleave's debut novel, is one of them. Just as the readers have settled into Joe's routine, looking for the copy-cat killer, fending off well-meaning Sally at work, and visiting his domineering and demanding mother, events take a drastic turn and the action begins to gather pace.

For me there were "sticking points" in this novel. For example, I had a problem reconciling Slow Joe with the other side of his character: the rapist and serial killer who has Christchurch terrified. Perhaps Joe is schizophrenic, but the two seem to be so diametrically opposed, and I had trouble in believing they were the same person. Despite this I kept reading just to find out how the whole scenario resolved.

In this first novel, Paul Cleave has shown he has potential as a crime novelist, even if only in his fearless approach. He has been brave in setting this novel in his home town. Comparisons will inevitably be made with Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter series, and perhaps Simon Kernick's THE BUSINESS OF DYING. I believe THE CLEANER will be a stand-alone, but that we will see more offerings by this author. Random House New Zealand has apparently commissioned two more novels.

Random House has an author page at http://www.randomhouse.com.au/Authors/Default.aspx?Page=Author&ID=Cleave,%20Paul.

August 2006 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem

 

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