A YEAR TO LEARN A WOMAN is the second novel and first crime fiction offering from New Zealand writer Paddy Richardson. Travis Crill is a serial rapist - convicted and jailed for a series of bizarre attacks. Claire Wright is a freelance journalist, living alone with her young daughter after the sudden death of her older husband. When Claire is first contacted to see if she would be interested in writing the story of Crill for a very much needed large sum of money, she finds she can quickly overcome her initial reluctance to look closely at a man like him. But understanding Crill's story means that Claire must also look closely at the impact of his crimes on his victims and she gradually comes to realise that, despite being in jail and not in regular contact with Claire, Crill seems strangely to be in control.
A YEAR TO LEARN A WOMAN is broken down into a series of chapters from various characters viewpoints - Claire, her daughter Annie and many of Crill's victims. There are also scattered chapters written from Crill's own viewpoint. It seemed that this styling is what makes this a very disquieting book. Being inside the heads of the victim's is a sobering experience. Interspersing that with the normal daily life of Claire and Annie, moving backwards in time to when Annie was a baby, and into the current with Annie a teenager, and Claire - firstly trying to decide if she is willing to take the commission to write Crill's story, and then working through the research required to start the book.
One of the factors that most interests Claire is that Crill doesn't really have a classic rapist profile (if there is such a thing). His attacks are yearly - and he uses that year to stalk and "learn" his victims. He seems less motivated by the need for power and control and more by a need for love and acceptance. He seems to come from a very stable family background, he holds down a job, is a very attractive man. His crimes are terrifying, but odd, sad, very strange. It's possibly this dichotomy of character that interests Claire, that draws her into the story. Crill doesn't seem that threatening.
A YEAR TO LEARN A WOMAN is one of those deceptively creepy, sneaky, slow building tense books, that frankly is extremely discomforting to read. The story moves from the mundane, to the discomforting, from the research to the reality of dealing with a serial criminal very deftly. There is a rapid build up at the end and a resolution which, whilst there is a point at which you can start to see it coming, is still frightening and sobering. It's not often that a crime fiction book makes you want to leave the lights on. A YEAR TO LEARN A WOMAN did that and made me want to wait to finish it until I was sure I wasn't home alone!