THE CALLER - Alex Barclay

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The Caller
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Joe Lucchesi has recently returned to his job as a detective in the New York Police Department. He, his wife and teenage son have returned from life-threatening incidents in Ireland where Lucchesi's family were threatened, his wife tortured, his son's girlfriend killed and their peace of mind destroyed by a deranged killer. That killer was never caught, and he won't leave Joe alone.
In the meantime, Joe and his partner are part of the team investigating a series of extremely violent deaths, where for some inexplicable reason, a killer is mutilating the teeth of his victims. Initially the killings were thought to possibly have some homosexual element, but as the number of victims increases and two survivors – one female, one male are identified, the reasons become even more obscure. Along with the phone calls from the killer who tortured his family, Joe is also receiving letters from somebody who knows something about this current case.
THE CALLER is the second book featuring Joe Lucchesi, the first being Darkhouse. THE CALLER covers the period of time after the family have returned to America and the immediate aftermath of their experiences. Joe's wife Anna is housebound, scared, and scarred physically and mentally from an ordeal covered by the earlier book. Joe's teenage son Shaun is rebellious, dealing with his trauma by drinking too much and causing problems for his parents at every turn. Joe is tied to his work, guilty about what happened to his family but unsure what to do other than try to recover his position as family head and protector.
THE CALLER concentrates fairly heavily on Joe and his family, and to a certain extent, the personal lives of the other member's of Joe's work team. There are a lot of references to the back-story – – none of these are overly fleshed out, but they do provide a précis of the past. Whilst the provision of some back story detail is always preferable to the assumption that the reader will have read earlier books in the series, the level of concentration here gave THE CALLER a feeling of constantly looking backwards and a real disconnection with current day events. Those current events - a serial killer with a distinctive MO, ended up as a fairly pedestrian serial killer plot. Seemingly disconnected victims, an unknown perpetrator, unidentifiable by unexplained survivors, an accumulation of clues and information from friends and family of the victims, and a sudden connection. Bit of cop-jep and a twist at the end which was obviously coming, but elegantly tied off by the author.
Whilst it seems that the back-telling of Joe's personal story; the concentration on Joe and his family; on Joe's feelings and thoughts; are designed to flesh him out as a character, the book lacked focus and direction. It maybe that reading Darkhouse first would give THE CALLER that focus, but on its own, the back fill was more distracting than illuminating. Combine that with a reasonable but predictable serial killer plot and THE CALLER didn't quite live up what it sometimes threatened to promise.

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