Matt Wells is a crime novelist in a bit of a career slump. Life gets even worse when he is contacted via e-mail by the White Devil. The e-mails at first seem to be from a fan, until one of them instructs him to go around to his ex-wife's home, where he discovers a murdered dog in his daughter's bedroom. His tormentor wants Wells to turn his crimes into a novel and, in between sending him notes to use in said novel, is also committing several murders. He starts off with people in his own life who have wronged him, before moving on to everybody in Matt's life.
At first, I thought I was onto a winner with "The Death List" thanks to a quick-moving plot and some inventive, nasty murders. I was ready to believe that a twisty, exciting thriller was about to unfold. Unfortunately, the above plot description is about it. It would appear the White Devil aka Leslie Dunn really is doing this just for the hell of it, as no real link is established between him or Matt Wells, despite early revelations that they were both adopted. I had just over 100 - 150 pages to go before I simply fell out of interest with this book. The subplot involving three SAS members with their own agenda against White Devil never did anything except get in the way. They tail him, then show up at the end and kill him. Oops, is that a spoiler? Well, why did I plough through 400 pages just for random, undeveloped characters to pop in and save the day? It pissed me off.
Next rant: the police on the case are always two steps behind. The reader knows more than they do thanks to several different view points - Matt Wells, the killer etc. It doesn't contribute anything! Like "The Neighbour" that I read recently, you could remove the police element from the book entirely and lose nothing.
Next rant: Matt's ex-wife is yet another typical bitch-on-wheels without any redeeming features. Why does she hate Matt so much? It's not adequately explained. She's a never-ending stream of bitterness and unpleasantness. To call her one-dimensional is being very generous.
Next rant: with the main character being a crime novelist, there are all sorts of jibes and in-jokes about crime fiction, crime writers, crime readers etc. I'm guessing it was supposed to be clever, but it wore thin to the point where you suspect Johnston has his own personal bitterness about the whole thing. I don't like being told repeatedly that I'm some sort of ghoul for liking the crime genre, or that I'm reading crass commercialism. It's a bit rich, considering I forked out good money to pick up this particular book by this particular author. Get over yourself, buddy!
Next rant: I was under the impression that the situation Matt finds himself in (having everybody in his life threatened, being stalked, being framed for murder etc etc) evokes suspense because how on Earth does one remove themselves from that sort of situation? I mean, if it were me, I'd be well and truly screwed. So, naturally, you'd expect lots of suspense in seeing how Matt - a crime writer but otherwise ordinary guy - manouvers himself out of a very tight corner. Wrong. Matt used to be a rugby player and his former team members include an ex-SAS member, a computer hacker specialist and a guy who owns a high-tech security-laden mansion, each who conveniently pops up when needed. In the final 100 pages or so, amongst tracking White Devil, they sit around and call each other "lad". Blech. Then, as they race from place to place (White Devil owns quite a few properties), and discover victim after victim, we get ten different versions of "this guy's a mad bastard!" and "is nobody safe?" You know, we have spent THE LAST 300 PAGES ESTABLISHING EXACTLY THAT! YES, WHITE DEVIL IS A MAD BASTARD AND NO, NOBODY IS SAFE! Sorry, had to get that off my chest.
Golly, was there anything right with "The Death List"? Well, considering I really had to force myself just to finish it, I guess not. I certainly wasn't bored to begin with, but when you get more and more irritated with each page, it quickly erodes any good-will that had built up before it.