Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
He’s baaaa-aaack. Joe, the charmingly brutal serial killer who masqueraded as a slow-witted police janitor while terrorising Christchurch in Cleave’s raw but outstanding 2006 debut, THE CLEANER, makes a long-awaited bloody return to the page in this latest thriller from our dark prince of crime writing.
Ever since THE CLEANER exploded onto the scene in Europe, immediately mixing it up with Lee Child, Dan Brown, and Stieg Larsson at the top of German bestseller lists, and becoming one of the fastest and best-selling New Zealand novels of modern times, fans all over the world have been clamouring for more of 'Slow Joe'.
It's easy to see why: despite all his ferocity and bloodlust, Joe Middleton is an intriguing and layered character: funny at times, caring or compassionate at times (in his own twisted way), expressing things about the world we might occasionally wonder but never would dare to say. He's warped and definitely has a view askew, but like Hannibal Lecter or Tony Soprano, we can find ourselves intrigued, even slightly warming to, this monster of a man - while still wanting to see him get some kind of come-uppance and justice.
Cleave digs us deep into Joe's psyche, with first-person narratives of the world of Christchurch through Joe's eyes. Not so much a rose-tinted version of the Garden City; instead, blood orchid drenched.
In the several years since 'the Christchurch Carver' first appeared on the page, Cleave has gathered awards, acclaim, and bestseller status across the world for his gripping and gory thrillers. Yet, for Joe, only one year has passed. Awaiting trial on multiple murder charges, he sees himself as the victim. Stuck in prison, unable to continue his ‘work’, forced to liaise with lawyers and psychologists as he plots a defence that he wasn’t in control of his actions. And then there’s the growing nationwide movement calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty, with him as poster child for the hangman. As well as former cops, victims’ family, and a sociopathic ex-girlfriend - the viciously twisted Melissa X - all coming for him.
Cleave writes vividly and violently, ratcheting up the tension as we wonder what will happen to Joe, and all those whose lives he touches. Ferocious and fun.