Saturday, January 24, 2015


FIVE MINUTES ALONE by Paul Cleave (Penguin, 2015)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

The fourth Theodore Tate novel, FIVE MINUTES ALONE, sees author Paul Cleave continuing to pull together connections from many of his previous novels - this series and the Christchurch Carver books.  I must admit some of these connections, and the continuation in these books fascinate this reader. But then I've been amazed, fascinated, confronted, discomforted and flat out frightened by most of them.

The FIVE MINUTES ALONE of the title is a reference to that oft-quoted reaction of loved ones, and victims of, violent offenders. It's a hard sentiment to argue with - five minutes alone with an offender to even some scores. Whilst it's more normal for cops to politely deflect the request, this time, an ex-cop is only too happy to oblige, even instigate.
"And that did it. At the mention of the Carver he felt something stir inside him. It was like an old car that hadn't run in years was being started. Only the fuel was bad, the engine was half-seized, there was enough juice for the engine to try and turn over, but that was all, a hint of life and then nothing."
Perhaps it's the bullet lodged in Schroder's head that's made him lose his moral compass, then again, there's only so much depravity, cruelty and downright nastiness that some people are able to deal with. Schroder's reached his limit and given he's out of the police, and living a lost life he's quite 'content' to take up a cause.
"There they were. Two small words. Why should, and a future opened in front of him, just like that, a doorway to a world of possibilities. That was the moment he realized he was a man searching for something."
Tate, on the other hand, has returned to the job. His own injuries healed, he's dealing with two major problems - his wife has not recovered fully from the car crash that killed their daughter, and her memory is patchy. Dangerously so for him. Somebody is also killing violent and nasty rapists and whilst initial suspicion seems to indicate victims or their families, it's not long before Tate has other ideas.
"Four weeks after joining the land of the living, Bridget's memory came back. All of it - minus the few hours before and during the accident. Then two weeks ago the problems started. Small problems. Painful problems. My wife wakes up into the morning of the accident. She thinks that everything is as it was three years ago. It's the school holidays and she's taking Emily to the movies and Schroder is my partner and the world, to her, hasn't moved on."
There's such strength in the portrayal of these characters. Whilst the reader knows from the start who the killer is, and why they are doing it, there's much that is sympathetic about him. There's something real and sympathetic about all of these main characters - all of them battle-weary, many morally ambiguous, these people have things to admire about them, as much as things to dislike.

There's also a powerful sense of pace, and action, and some memorable confrontation scenes - particularly in the Gothic old asylum where you'd be tempted to say "only in a Paul Cleave novel". That sense of pace is part of the strength of all these books, as are the flawed characters and the slightly crazy scenarios.

Because of the complicated connections that FIVE MINUTES ALONE is drawing together it's obviously going to work a lot better if you've at least read the earlier Tate novels. Having said that, readers who are willing to accept that "stuff happens in the past" even without knowing the ins and outs, will still get a lot from this book. Especially if that reader is interested in the outsider, the why, the "what happens when the wheels fall off", the ambiguous, and the "not everything always ends up happy ever after".


Karen Chisholm is one of the most respected crime fiction reviewers in Australia. An absolute stalwart of antipodean crime fiction, Karen created and has been running her Aust Crime Fiction website since 2006, highlighting a plethora of authors and titles from this part of the world, to the wider world online. It is a terrific resource - please check it out. 

Karen also reviews for other outlets, such as the Newtown Review of Books, and since 2014 has been a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - the New Zealand crime writing award. Her reviews of New Zealand crime novels will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction


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