I think it would be fair to say that PROMISE by Tony Cavanaugh has been talked up in these parts. Having read the book now, you can see many of the reasons for the general feeling of enthusiasm, although to be fair, the central storyline of this book is going to be problematic for some readers.
In Darian Richards, Cavanaugh has created a very interesting central character. Retired head of Victoria's Homicide Squad, shooting victim, not everything is immediately as it seems with Richards. A hard working cop with the victims and their families at the forefront of his mind always, his focus means that some of the case resolutions aren't exactly straightforward pieces of justice. Haunted by his failure to keep his promises to victim's families, Richards is, not to put too fine a point on it, morally ambiguous. Richards is, however, one of the aspects of the book that works incredibly well. He's not your normal cop, he's working outside the police system, his special skill - an ability to get inside the head of a killer, to think and act and find them based on instinct and intuition.
Richards is ably supported in this book by Maria, Senior-Constable with Noosa Police, outsider because of her relationship with ex-strip joint manager Casey Lack. Mate of Richards since their time in Melbourne, Casey revels in an ongoing supply of vintage slogan t-shirts, and some very dodgy equipment. Maria and Casey form the local branch of Richard's support team. Back in Melbourne they are supported by Isosceles. Geek, technical genius, edge dweller, surveillance, hacking, computer expert, apartment bound, acerbic, pointed, invaluable backup. The author has done a particularly good job of building a small but well-fleshed out team (saving Richards from lurching into the cliché of the lone wolf into the bargain), albeit this team has a hefty dose of eccentrics.
The storytelling style is the other element that is good. Sparse, dark, tight, acerbic and dryly funny in places, this aspect was especially pleasing. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the author's background as a script writer wasn't a little voice in the back of my mind as I read. Whilst you can see this book on the screen without too much of a stretch of the imagination, it avoided that dreaded "script" as a book feeling. Best of all there was a profoundly Australian feel to the book, the dialogue was taut and pointed, dry and extremely authentic.
The aspect of the book that was less pleasing was not just that here is yet another mad, bad and nasty serial killer targeting young woman, but the use of chapters inside the killer's mind, revealing, what is happening to the victims as they take a long time to die, although it does veer away from too much graphic detail. Given that other aspects of the plot - the chase for the killer, the steps taken by Richards, and his sidekicks in tracking down this madman were very well done, the inside the head aspect was disappointing. That idea that you have to be in the lunatic's head for a great portion of a book, privy to the details of his twisted torture methods, and to the feelings of his victims to ramp up the tension or make the reader increasingly uncomfortable is, these days, somewhat overdone. To the point where it's teetering dangerously close to boring. A pity, as the rest of the plot is clever, and the ultimate outcome shocking enough without having to spend too much up close and personal time with yet another barking madman.
Having said that, I'm perfectly prepared to admit that I read way too much crime fiction, and that I've developed a rather virulent allergy to mad hatter serial killer plot-lines unless there is something that makes that aspect of a plot different or particularly compelling. For me the serial killer voice might not have worked in PROMISE, but there was more than enough difference in creating a great new character, written well, with an interesting chase and just enough moral ambiguity and questionable behaviour to make me get as close as I can to forgetting the downside. Certainly I'd be right up front in the queue for a second book featuring Darian Richards or any of his team.