Serial killer storylines. We've all said it. Over it. One more serial killer storyline and I swear..... So I'll adjust previous assertions and instead say I'm over SOME serial killer storylines.
THE PRIEST, the first crime novel from Irish author Gerard O'Donovan has a serial killer that actually doesn't kill all of his victims. Instead they are horribly injured, disfigured, tortured and abused, but they don't all die. And our serial attacker is one of those mad, bad, weird religious nutter types - the burns that he leaves his victim's with eventually reveal that he's using some sort of Cross shaped implement. Needless to say, the nickname of "The Priest". That probably means a whole lot of reasons why you'd think twice before picking up this book.
But there are a lot of things going for this book. For a start it's mercifully free of the dreaded "in the serial killer's head" viewpoint. Secondly, some of his victims do survive - albeit maimed and dreadfully injured. This gives some opportunity for some interesting twists in the personal stories, in particular, of the first victim. Jesica Salazar is the much loved daughter of an older man - a high-ranking Spanish Diplomat, in Dublin for just a short time to experience a different culture, she is found after an evening out in a nightclub, alive but battered and horribly burnt. The sex crimes team steps into the investigation, headed by Claire Brogan. DI Mike Mulcahy has recently returned from a high-profile specialist drug investigation position in Spain, and he's not best pleased at all when he's seconded to the team. They need somebody to translate, and when he steps into a disagreement between a Spanish Official and one of the team, he's even more involved as the Spanish authorities look to him. Which means nobody is pleased. Not the team, not Mike. Add the character of journalist Siobhan Fallon who is as fearless in her journalism as she is insecure about her personal life.
Mulcahy is a good central character, of the slighly embittered, strong willed, grumpy type. He's an extremely likeable sort of character - vaguely reminiscent of Rebus, but I'm prepared to give O'Donovan the benefit of the doubt over the naming of journalist Siobhan Fallon. The tentative relationship between these two has a feeling of reality about it - particularly when the roles of Journalist and Detective Inspector clash.
Alongside excellent characterisations and a really good example of team policing tension, there's a pretty good plot here. The tension doesn't let up in THE PRIEST - possibly because you know that this killer doesn't always kill his victims, partly because he presents such an obvious danger as there appears to be no predictability to actions. The only downside really is a slightly heavy-handed and predictable use of descriptive language, which smacked a little too much of some sort of writing police talk manual and didn't always feel all that authentic. Having said that, despite the serial killer theme, I really enjoyed THE PRIEST and am intrigued by the prospect of a pairing of Mulcahy and Fallon. Hopefully there will be more books featuring one or both of these characters.