Joe Middleton has a lot on his plate, to say the least. Arrested for a whole slew of murders he says he can’t remember, Joe—a.k.a. the Christchurch Carver—has been in jail for the last year awaiting trial, charged with the task of convincing the psychiatrists interviewing him that he wasn’t of sound mind and can’t be blamed for what he did. And, incredibly, that’s the least of his worries.
In 2006 THE CLEANER was released and the opportunity to review it provided this reader with a life-long obsession with Paul Cleave's books (and a sneaking suspicion he was trying to scare me half to death!)
In my review at that time I said:
"Early on in this book, I'll be perfectly honest, I was thinking that the world could really do without another self-impressed, self-involved, self-narrating serial killer and about the time I was ready to throw this out the nearest window, bang, Cleave suddenly turned THE CLEANER on its head and Joe finds himself in a very very strange place. From then on the book takes you on a bit of a wild ride whilst Joe ramps up the killing spree, and tries to find the perpetrator of the one murder that he didn't do. Professional Pride? More likely a handy scapegoat."
When JOE VICTIM was released the really big question was how on earth Cleave would pull off a follow-up. Something that could continue the journey of the characters in the first book, given the resolution to most elements, albeit with a tiny bit of wiggle room. Which Cleave, being the sort of author that he is, blasts away revealing a whole new scenario, built around some very clever plotting, and a pair of central characters who are unrepentant. Mesmerising but utterly and completely unrepentant.
There's nothing in my rules that says that any book necessarily needs a character that a reader can like, or even sympathise with. What JOE VICTIM does is take the reader into the uncomfortable territory of the ultimate evil person, providing absolutely no grounds with which you can sympathise or even find an inkling of understanding of them, and yet, make them human, absorbing - mesmerising. There's even a point where you could be excused for a bit of barracking for the baddie - really uncomfortable for this reader when realisation dawned. Whilst character is a huge part of this book, the scenario in which Joe (aka the Christchurch Carver) finds himself, his upcoming trial, and the potential of a vote for the return of the death-penalty, all make up parts of a plot that really works. There's not a lot here that's unbelievable, even when it all gets a little weird.
THE CLEANER was the book that announced Paul Cleave to this reader, and since then, it's fair to say that he's not written a book that disappoints. Always different, always confrontational, often laced with dry humour and the unbelievable made perfectly acceptable, there's never a downside to a new book from this author. JOE VICTIM, however, was a particular stand-out, and whilst it will work as a standalone, knowing the first book makes this scenario more intriguing.
When JOE VICTIM first arrived that question of how on earth a follow-up could be achieved resounded. By the end of this book, of course he could do it. What made me ever think otherwise? Not only is JOE VICTIM a strong follow-up, it's a great story in its own right.