On the eve of the publication of the third Jack McEvoy novel Fair Warning — amid my re-read of every book Michael Connelly has published — I went back to where it all started for the intrepid newspaperman: 1996’s The Poet. The book holds up. In fact, it’s even better than I remember.
Mysteries about serial killers are my least favourite type of crime novel. When they’re done well — Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB, for example — they’re brilliantly pulse-pounding and terrifying, laden with tension and byzantine twists and turns. I understand their popularity; the cat-and-mouse game of predator/prey has been fodder for great stories for eons. But I often find serial killer stories luxuriate in the depravity and gruesomeness of the violence, and lose any semblance of realism as the killer hunts their prey and evades capture through theatrics, slowly getting under the skin of their pursuer(s), driving them mad, until the grand denouement. My favourite crime novels deal with “smaller,” less grandiose murders. I have a morbid fascination with the evil that men do — the “everyman” — rather than organised, methodical killers with an insatiable appetite for murder. Connelly’s The Poet is the exception. It’s my favourite serial killer novel.
Jack McEvoy is the crime reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. He has seen death in all of its forms. Death is his beat. But nothing prepares him for the death of his brother — a Denver homicide detective, haunted by a case he was unable to solve — who evidently turned his gun on himself in the backseat of his car. Jack doesn’t buy it. Driven by grief — remorse that he’ll never make pace with Sean — and his suspicions about the dying message his brother left behind (a quote from a work by Edgar Allan Poe), Jack uncovers a series of similar killings that have occurred across the country. It looks like someone is executing police officers and camouflaging their murders as suicides. And it appears these killings are connected to the murder of several children.
The Poet is an impeccably crafted crime novel by an absolute master. Its twists, turns and revelations are pitch-perfect. Rich in character, and ripe with thrills and chills that affected me once, ten years ago when I first read it, and did so for a second time. Just try putting it down.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Nov-2014
Country of Publication: Australia