For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the challenging task of focusing not only just on New Zealand-themed posts, but just on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around) - although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week.
This week I'm featuring THE KILLING HOUR, by internationally bestselling Christchurch crime writer Paul Cleave. THE KILLING HOUR (2007) was Cleave's second published book, following on from his much-acclaimed debut, THE CLEANER, which ended up as the #1 crime thriller title on Amazon in Germany for 2007, and in the top 10 for all books.
Like his debut, Cleave's second novel is also told through the (perhaps more than slightly askew) eyes of a very troubled, even disturbed, protagonist, and has a nice sense of forebody - the setting casts a shadow over the story. While some crime writers have 'troubled' or 'flawed' protagonists that have a few things bothering them, Cleave has truly flawed and troubled protagonists, operating on a level beyond what many other writers would address, and does a fantastic job getting inside their heads - his writing really gets you seeing through their eyes, rather than just being a narrative about someone with some problems.
Here's the first paragraph of THE KILLING HOUR:
"They come for me as I sleep. Their pale faces stare at me, their soft voices tell me to wake, to wake. They come to remind me of the night, to remind me of what I have done. They do not smile, they do not accuse me; they are just there, looking. I wish only to be alone, only to forget, but I have no voice to ask them to leave. I fear what they want, though I already know. They are here to blame me. To hate me. And I share their feelings. They cannot touch me because they are merely ghosts. I cannot touch them either, cannot push them aside, and words alone will not make them disappear. I stare into their eyes and see the guilt they want me to feel, and I do feel it, I barely feel anything else, and when I wake it is with a scream in my throat that I just manage to hold in. It tastes like blood and death. I pull myself out of the nightmare but nothing changes. It is five o'clock in the afternoon and I am bathed in sweat."
In THE KILLING HOUR, Charlie has a problem. A big one. He doesn’t know what he has done. He is covered in blood, there's a bump on his forehead and on the news it says the two young women he was with last night were brutally murdered. Charlie knows Cyris is the murderer — except the police don’t believe Cyris exists. Nor does Jo, Charlie's ex-wife. He wants desperately for her to believe in him, because, the thing is, he doesn’t know if Cyris exists either. And now Charlie’s on the run with Jo bound and gagged in the car boot while the killing hour approaches yet again . . .
In an interview for a feature in Good Reading magazine ("Scary Tales", March 2010), Cleave told me he actually first wrote the THE KILLING HOUR prior to THE CLEANER, and that in a way it was a breakthrough for him as a budding author. "My friend at the time, when I was like nineteen, asked what I really liked, and I said I’d always wanted to be a writer and he said ‘well, why don’t you do it’," said Cleave. "And it was kind of like, ‘well, why don’t I?’"
"To me it was kind of obvious that if I did that I would fail, and you never get anywhere, and it’s too hard, and I can’t ever write 100,000 words, you know and if I can it’ll be crap. But I did it, and all of that happened; it was hard, and it was crap, but it was certainly worthwhile and I enjoyed the process, and then I wrote another one, and another one, and another one and I think about 6 or 7 attempts into it, after writing these kind of … then I wrote THE KILLING HOUR, kind of like my breakthrough thing, and then from that I wrote THE CLEANER – that’s the order I wrote them in."
Cleave also told me that THE KILLING HOUR was originally written as a horror. After writing the manuscript, Cleave read former FBI profiler John Douglas's book about serial killers, and came to the realisation that supernatural horror wasn't real horror. “The scariest stuff in the world is true stuff, stuff that’s real, like serial killers,” he told me. So he wrote THE CLEANER, told from the perspective of a serial killer, and then went back and re-wrote THE KILLING HOUR to make it more 'real', taking out some supernatural elements.
Like his other dark crime novels, THE KILLING HOUR is certainly a thrilling read, that gets you inside the head of a deeply troubled protagonist. If I'm being brutally honest, I probably prefer Cleave's other three novels, but THE KILLING HOUR is still a very good book, well worth a read by anyone who likes darker thrillers. Like others in the upper echelon of quality crime writing worldwide, all of Cleave's books are good to great, so I'm speaking relatively when I say that if I had to pick, THE KILLING HOUR would be my fourth favourite of the four (like saying that a particular Michael Connelly book isn't as good as some of his better ones). It's still an above average thriller that has lots of great aspects to it.
Have you read any Paul Cleave novels? Do you like darker thrillers that get you inside the head of (very) troubled protagonists? Do you like crime that verges towards (real) horror? What other Kiwi crime novels would you like me to feature in the Crime Fiction Alphabet?