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Crucifix Killer – Chris Carter

August 31, 2009

Crucifix Killer is the first novel by author Chris Carter. I bought it on spec, whilst taxing my car last month, as a fiendish plot by the post office has seen it move to the back of our bookshop, meaning I now have to walk past all the books to get to the counters. As a result, the car tax cost £50 more than usual…..

Anyway, I picked this up mainly due to the cover design, it shares a style with recent Richard Montanari books among others, and I have enjoyed those, so thought this would be worth a read. The synopsis inside the cover was enough to persuade me to go ahead. This is at heart a police detective story, complete with detective ‘with issues’, in the form of Robert Hunter, Carter’s lead character. We hear that he was exceptionally intelligent, but had a traumatic childhood, the obvious inference being that he’s now damaged in some way. This is reinforced by the first meeting with him, where he has a hangover and has woken up in a strange bed with a woman he does not recognise.

The first killing in the book is gruesome, although I have to say that the description of the scene did not go over the top and linger on the gore, in the way that some crime thrillers have recently. Exposition of the history with this killer is obtained via Hunter’s new partner, who was not part of the previous investigation, where a man was caught and convicted for the crimes attributed to ‘The Crucifix Killer’. Hunter points out that he had doubts about the suspect and was not convinced by the arrest.

Initial identification of the first victim brings our detectives into contact with the local crime boss, and it was at this point I started to have problems with the book. The crime boss was, for me, by far the most rounded character in the story. In many ways, the development of the character made him more likeable than Hunter, by the end of the book. By the time we get to the second victim, the killer’s methodology seems clear – some deep secret the victim is hiding is linked to the manner of their death. What we still don’t see is any link between the victims, how the killer is selecting them.

We are also expected to believe that in the midst of this investigation, which has only two detectives working on it, in an effort to stop leaks to the press, the lead detective will take time out to go for dinner with a woman he just met. Unfortunately, the way the female character was shoehorned into the story jarred with me. It didn’t seem reasonable, and made me suspicious. This was further compounded by her accidentally seeing a key piece of evidence, which she ‘recognises’ and is thus brought into the centre of the investigation. At this point, Hunter’s boss questions his relationship with her, but he brushes it off as nothing. For a man who is supposed to have a genius IQ, and be one of the best profilers around, this seems naive. On further reflection, I cannot say whether this was intentional, an indication of Hunter’s weakness, or if it was a weakness in the story. As I was reading, it felt like an issue with the story.

As the story moves into the final act, we see Hunter involved with the crime boss, in an action which seems utterly out of character. I will be interested to see if there are ramifications from this in further books, as I don’t see that this was adequately dealt with in this book. The actions provide the catalyst for Hunter to put everything together, and in the space of a couple of paragraphs he has determined the killer’s motivation, identity and the link between the victims. This is fortunate, because the killer has abducted Hunter’s rookie partner, Garcia. Garcia is characterised in such a way, that if this were a film, he would be the young guy who announces, just as he embarks on some dangerous action, that this is his birthday. You just know that something bad will happen to him. This feeling hangs over Garcia in almost every scene, so it’s no great surprise to find him in mortal peril, from which Hunter must extract him. Of course, as the hero of the story, he manages this against all the odds. He then heads into the final showdown with the killer, and emerges victorious, due to a couple of outrageous coincidences.

Overall, I found this book unsatisfying. I was certain I knew the identity of the killer by about halfway through, and this was confirmed at the end. I didn’t find any of the characters believable enough – snippets of background were introduced, but the characters did not seem fully formed. I’m unconvinced of Hunter’s brilliance, and he seems to be little more than a cliche. The crime boss was better drawn, but ended up a more sympathetic character that he probably should have been. Garcia was underdeveloped, as was the killer’s character. The secondary characters were all little more than one dimensional, and equally as cliched as Hunter. Having said all that, I did read the book to the end. For me, that means that it was still better than the last Alex Cross novel I tried to read, which I left half finished and have never gone back to, neither have I read any of them published since, and until that point I was a big fan of James Patterson. I just found the book to be utterly dreary, and the story did nothing to draw me in. I will certainly read the next Hunter novel, which I understand Carter is working on. I hope that more detail will be given to Hunter, and especially to any secondary characters in the story, and I will be interested to see if there are any repercussions for Hunter from the events in this book. If Carter can make his cast more believable and less cliche, then I think the next book could be good.

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