I was really looking forward to this novel as its author is someone who’s blog I used to read regularly. In a past life Mark Hill ran the Crime Thriller Fella blog, a book reviewing blog like this one (though I imagine he had far more readers than I). The best part of his blog was a section he titled the Intel where he interviewed authors and asked them for advice on writing. For again, like myself, while Mark reviewed books, what he really wanted was to be the one writing them. Well Mark is now a published author, whilst I’m still an aspiring one, so what did I think? Did his debut live up to expectations? Did he take on board all that advice, or did it all go to waste?
Well I’m happy to say that his debut hits the spot nicely and he clearly was listening when all those writers he interviewed spilled their secrets. The Two O’Clock Boy is a tense serial killer thriller, with a good undercurrent of noir. While it’s theme, firmly rooted in the abuse and casual violence of a 1980’s care home, couldn’t be more current, what with the ongoing inquiry into historical child abuse.
Now readers of my reviews will know that I’m not really a fan of the serial killer genre. Too often they descend into crude schlock, if not torture porn. Pleasantly the author avoids this, and while there is a high blood and gore quotient, it’s never overdone, one never gets the feel that the author is just upping the ante for the salacious pleasure of his readers. Perhaps more importantly, he avoids the usual trotting out of the tired old psycho serial killer tropes. Our killer doesn’t come up with myriad exotic ways to keep his victims alive before dispatching them with Heath Robinson ingenuity. Nor does he appear out of nowhere, as if psycho serial killers live around every corner. Rather the author anchors him firmly in the past of care home abuse, so that we understand how his psychological and moral growth became so stunted. This is both more realistic and performs that feat that many an author tries and fails at, namely eliciting some empathy for the villain.
And it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the killer, given all that they suffered as a child. With what we now know of the abuse that many suffered in the care system in the 1970/80’s, the predatory paedophiles with links to the establishment, the Jimmy Saviles, it’s little wonder that many are scarred by their experiences. And this is another strength of this book. Many of the other characters are victims of the care home system, not least our protagonist DI Ray Drake. Some of the best scenes in this novel are those set in the care home, where the author writes powerfully of broken childhoods and emotional neglect.
Drake himself is dark horse with many secrets and without divulging spoilers it’s not clear by the end of the novel whether he’s expunged them all. For example, who is the boy in the prologue who kills his parents? Is it Drake? This is never answered. I imagine that this is with a view to a sequel. I hope so. I for one will be reading it.
5 out 5 stars.