This is a hard post to write. I recently read or received two very enthusiastic reports of a novel from bloggers whose reviews and posts I enjoy very much – Material Witness and Random Jottings. The book? American Devil, a debut thriller by Oliver Stark. A bit carried away by such praise, but only skimming the reviews because I like to read novels without knowing the plots beforehand, I contacted the publisher, Headline, to see if a copy was available. One was, and was very kindly sent to me.
Here's my dilemma – I did not like the book. I stopped reading it 100 pages in, disgusted by four descriptions of murders of blonde,blue-eyed young women, and the post-mortem atrocities done to them. I really did not want to read any more from the point of view of the murderer: his sadistic impulses and his compulsive need to collect a different body part from each of his victims.The damaged cop who is the only man who can solve the case is an over-the-top cliche but at least bearable. However, when he is sent to see a psychologist for his anger-management issues and the psychologist turns out to be a blonde, blue-eyed young woman – well the next 400 pages loomed ahead of me like an insurmountable obstacle of boredom, as I could guess right there that we'd end up with the evil villain (who will turn out to have a
subterranean lair and a stuck-together set of body parts, and have a split personality) kidnapping and torturing her, etc. (I didn't read on to find out if I was right, as I don't actually care whether I am or not.)
Obviously my views are not widely shared, but I just do not like reading books about psychotic killers who are so clever that they can evade detection so the reader can be "entertained" with descriptions of inventive, grisly murders of a set of people who aren't even characters, but who are introduced purely for the sake of being murdered or of having their body defiled. This is just not for me.
It is my policy not to review books that I don't like, as I don't see the point. However, on this occasion the book was very kindly sent to me by the publisher, so I feel some sense of obligation to write about it. (I shan't be asking publishers for review copies again without finding out more about the book concerned first.) Quite a dilemma, as I don't want to be rude but I also can't lie in a review.
So, the best I can do is to quote from some of the publicity material for the book (unread by me before embarking on the book): "A brilliant debut thriller from new British talent Oliver Stark. The American Devil is stalking New York's streets. Detective Tom Harper, one of the NYPD's star homicide detectives, is on the verge of losing his shield for striking a superior officer, when the city is left reeling by a series of brutal murders. Young socialites are being targeted by one of the most gruesome killers New York has ever seen and the top brass know that Harper is the only detective who has a chance of stopping the newly dubbed "American Devil" before he can strike again. With Harper already living on the edge, they [sic] have no choice but to appoint psychologist, and new profiler, Denise Levene, to oversee his return. Harper swiftly realises that Denise's professional expertise is invaluable to his investigation and their relationship changes as they begin to work together to find the killer."