Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Chill Of Night" by James Hayman

Elaine "Lainie" Goff is discovered frozen solid in the boot of an abandoned vehicle. While Detective Michael McCabe looks into the lawyer's life to find suspects and motives, he eventually learns of the existence of a witness. Abby Quinn's claims of witnessing a murder were initially dismissed because she has a history of mental illness and suicide attempts. She is now on the run, so McCabe must locate her before the killer does. And find the killer, of course.

I'm beginning to lose count of the number of thrillers I've read lately in which the lead detective has an eidetic memory, or some super-special skill that gets them inside the heads of serial killers. Michael McCabe has an eidetic memory. Right now I'm reading "The Night Stalker" by Chris Carter, whose on-going protagonist Robert Hunter is highly intelligent and got into university when he was twelve. Or fourteen? I forget. He was young, anyway.

Ever notice that no matter how wonderful, fantastic, skilled or near-supernaturally gifted the lead detective or FBI profiler is, they never manage to find the culprit in under 400 pages? Funny, that.

As you can see from the plot description, there's not a lot going on here. The novel plays out a lot like a "Law & Order" episode, as McCabe questions possible suspects such as Lainie's boss-and-lover Henry Ogden, the director of a teen homeless shelter Lainie worked at pro-bono, and her creepy landlord. McCabe's team, with a seemingly never-ending number of detectives, methodically gather clues and evidence and send it off for testing. Basically, it's yet another police procedural with an emphasis on the procedure. Author Hayman likes to do his research, and it shows. It also makes the book remarkably dull. By page 250, nobody's really learnt much more than what they did when the book began.

The sequences involving Abby Quinn are quite well done, as she's the only character in any sort of danger. Her mental illness is a convenient method for the author to provide an excuse as to why Abby can't identify the killer - only that he has a head of fire and icicles for eyes. It was a bit obvious and lame. But then, if we knew who the killer was right off the bat, it would have made this snoozefest even harder to finish, right?

As for the identity of the killer, it's not my powerful skills of deduction that let me figure it out here. Rather, I recognised the crappy ploys used by crappy writers to keep the killer's identity a secret. Do you reckon the killer is any of the people McCabe identifies as having means, opportunity and motive to kill Lainie? Or could it be some other character never raised as a possible suspect, with a secret motive that will handily be provided once he/she is unmasked? If you guessed the latter, you've probably read more than one thriller in your life and can see through the tricks author Hayman so lazily employs.

Something else highly evident is the author's homophobia. "The Cutting", his previous novel, was pretty terrible on this count. "The Chill Of Night" isn't quite as extreme, but it's still disconcerting that McCabe and his team quickly pick somebody to be their prime suspect once that person reveals he's gay. He's then accused of not just raping and killing a woman, but molesting children as well because, of course, if he's gay he's only one step away from all sorts of sexual depravity. It's an attitude that belongs in the dark ages, and I'm surprised such attitudes could see the light of day in a book released by a major publisher such as Penguin Books.

"The Chill Of Night" is a bore. Who cares if it's accurate? I kept falling asleep while reading it. Aside from Abby Quinn's plight, NOTHING IS HAPPENING HERE, FOLKS. Go watch a "Law & Order" episode instead. It only takes an hour, and it will provide a dozen more plot twists than what you're going to find in this drivel.

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