As I said last week, later this month Christchurch-based crime writer Paul Cleave’s fourth novel, BLOOD MEN, is being released. I will be very interested to see how this book is received and what media attention it gets, both in Australasia and overseas, as I greatly enjoyed the advance version I read late last year (I think it is Cleave’s best book, and I really liked both THE CLEANER and CEMETERY LAKE).
BLOOD MEN is also the manuscript that got US publishers interested in him and his writing, and will be Cleave’s first book to be released in the US, in June 2010. His next book, COLLECTING COOPER (which he is currently completing) has also been signed up for US release, and I understand there are also plans to release his first three titles in the States in due course. So things are looking like they are on the up for New Zealand’s somewhat-overlooked (at least here) but internationally most-popular current crime writer.
BLOOD MEN (like all of Cleave’s novels) is written from the first person perspective of a troubled protagonist. Set in Christchurch, there are overlapping characters from Cleave’s other novels – all his stories are in effect standalones (being that they don’t focus on a recurring series character), but they occur within the same world that he is building up, novel by novel. So readers of Cleave’s previous work will enjoy spotting links to the other books in BLOOD MEN.
Courtesy of Paul Cleave and Rebecca Simpson (his publicist at Random House New Zealand), I can now offer you all an advance look at the first pages of BLOOD MEN; they have given permission for me to reprint the prologue on this blog, for all of you to read. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to let me know what you think (about the prologue, Cleave’s earlier work, your thoughts on ‘darker’ crime novels, or anything else) in the comments section. So here it is, the start of BLOOD MEN:
‘I first made the newspapers when I was nine years old. I made them in every city across the country, most of them on the first page. I even made them internationally. In them I was black and white, blurred a little, my face turned into my father’s chest, people surrounding us. From then on I was shown on TV, in magazines, in more and more papers, always the same photo. I never wanted any of it, I tried to avoid it, but the option wasn’t mine.
‘My dad, well, he made the papers too. He was also on the front pages. There were more photos of him than of me, because he was the one being arrested. I was just along for the ride, trying to fight off the police as they came to take him away. I didn’t know any better. Mum peeled me away from his side as I cried. The police handcuffed him, and I never saw him again until this week. He was my dad, sure, but it was pretty easy to stop loving the guy when it turned out he was never really the man we thought he was. Dad got himself arrested because he had tastes other people didn’t look too kindly on — not even the people of Christchurch.
‘Mum was dead a year later. She took cocktails of poisons and pills to escape the hate and the accusations from the public. That left me with the doctors and psychiatrists to study me. They were curious about me. Everybody was. My dad was a man of blood. He had murdered eleven prostitutes over a period of twenty-five years, and that got some of the good people of Christchurch wondering whether I’d turn out the same way. Dad was so subtle nobody even realised Christchurch had a serial killer. He didn’t advertise the fact, he just did his thing, no fuss, no real mess, sometimes they were found and sometimes they weren’t, and those that weren’t were never reported missing. He was a family man who loved us, who would do everything for us. He never laid a finger on my mother or my sister or me, he worked hard to put food on our table, to provide what he could to make our lives better than his was growing up. The monster inside him never came home, it was left hidden in the darkness with the blood and the flesh of those it killed, but sometimes — at least eleven times that he admitted to — Dad’d go out at night and meet up with that monster. He wasn’t my dad in those moments, he was something else. I never asked what, exactly. In the beginning I couldn’t. In the beginning I wasn’t allowed to see him, then, when I was old enough to make my own decisions, I didn’t want to.
‘I was ten years old when the trial began. It was a circus. My mum was still alive, but my sister and I were struggling. Mum was always yelling at us when she was sober, and crying when she was drunk, and whatever of those two states she was in, you always wished it was the other. Soon the pills and the booze took their toll, but not as quick as she wanted, and when they couldn’t finish the job she used a razor blade. I don’t know how long it took for her to bleed out. She might still have been alive when we found her. I held my sister’s hand and we watched her pale body, the yelling and the crying gone now.
‘My mum’s family wanted nothing to do with us, but my dad’s parents took us in. The kids at school would tease me, they’d beat me up, they’d steal my bag at least once a week and jam it down a toilet somewhere. The psychiatrist came around every few months with his tests and questions. My photo came up in the papers every now and then, always the same one, though the distance between those occurrences started to stretch. I was almost a celebrity. I wasalso the son of a serial killer — and some of those good Christchurch people thought I would follow in his footsteps.
‘My sister, Belinda, she took the direction of Dad’s victims. She was out fucking for money when she was fourteen. By sixteen she was an addict; her tastes ran to the liquids that could be scored cheap and injected into her veins. By nineteen she was dead. I was the last of my family — Dad’s monster took them all away.
‘Of course little Eddie grew up, I have my own family now. A wife. A child. I told my wife who I was not long after we met. It frightened her in the beginning. Thankfully she got to know me. She saw I had no monsters.
‘There are those who think what my dad had was a gene, that he’s passed it on to me. There are people who think that I’m destined to be a man of blood too,’ I say, and I look at the blood soaking into the upholstery from the woman slumped in the passenger seat, ‘that the same blood runs through both of us. They’re wrong,’ I say, and I take the car up to sixty kilometres an hour and drive straight into the wall.