PROMISE - Tony Cavanaugh

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Darian Richards
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Book Synopsis

Top Homicide cop Darian Richards has been seeking out monsters for too long. He has promised one too many victim's families he will find the answers they need and it's taken its toll. Now retired, a series of disappearances see him return to the gun. On his terms. But he knows, every promise has a price to pay.

After surviving a gunshot wound to the head, Darian calls it quits and retires to the Sunshine Coast in an attempt to leave the demons behind. But he should have realised, there are demons everywhere and no place is safe. A serial killer is prowling the Sunshine Coast area and Darian tries to ignore the fact his experience could make a difference hunting him down.

All he wants is to sit at the end of his jetty on the Noosa River and ignore the fact that girls from the area have vanished over the past fourteen months. All blonde and pretty. Youngest: 13. Oldest: 16. He knows they are all dead but the cops were saying 'missing' or 'vanished’. That’s what you have to say if you don’t have a body.

Book Review

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.

All Reviews of Books by this Author


As a fan of crime fiction, I loved Promise. Although it was written in noir style, Cavanaugh managed to keep the dryness out of Promise that I find so prevalent in other noir style books. The characters were real, and flawed, which is always a bonus for a mere human such as myself. I also found some really witty parts in the book that made me laugh out loud. Also, Cavanaugh's brilliant description of the characters environment allowed me to feel as though I was there. The imagery was great.
I liked being able to get inside the killers head and hear his justification for the murders. That always interests me in a psychological sense and Cavanaugh did it most convincingly. I also appreciated that the truly gory parts were left to the imagination, even though referred to. There was a realness to the book lacking in many other crime books. In many stories the victims that we are allowed to get close to are often saved at the last moment, but real life is not like that. Tony Cavanaugh allows us to feel for his characters, to connect with them, yet not feel ripped off when they meet their grisly end. We may want them all to be spared, but understand why they are not.
I for one cannot wait for Tony Cavanaugh's next book. If it is even half as good as Promise I will be delighted.

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