Saturday, October 10, 2015


THE DOMINO KILLER by Neil White (Sphere, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

DC Sam Parker investigates the brutal killing of a man in a local park, who evidence later places at a prior murder, while his brother Joe, a defence lawyer, thinks he's found the culprit who killed their sister almost two decades ago: Joe's new client. 

Some crime novels grab you immediately, with an obviously distinctive style, character or premise. Others grow on you as the pages turn, as you get deeper into the story and  characters. For me THE DOMINO KILLER, Neil White's ninth crime novel (and third to star the Parker brothers), fell into the latter category, going from 'hmmm... promising, I'm intrigued' to 'I'm really enjoying this' to 'ah, very nicely done - I'll definitely be back for more' as I followed along the story.

It all starts with an unassuming man waiting on a park bench in Manchester as night falls, flowers in hand: hopeful, nervous, and expectant. But rather than a first date or secret lover, he's met with a hammer. Detective Constable Sam Parker of Manchester's Major Incident Team is assigned to the murder, which at first seems as random and unexplained as it is vicious and bloody. Meanwhile Sam's brother Joe, who also works within the criminal justice system, but 'on the other side' as a criminal defence counsel, is electrified when he looks into the eyes of his newest client; a man with a clean record who's accused of stealing his own car from the police impound, only to later torch it. Joe is certain he's seen those eyes before - on a teenage face who glanced at 18-year-old Joe before following Joe's little sister Ellie down a path that was a short-cut home; Ellie was never seen alive again, an incident that's haunted Joe, Sam, and others for 17 years.

It was Ellie Parker's murder that inspired both Sam and Joe to follow careers in criminal justice, if from different perspectives. But Joe has been hiding a secret from everyone closest to him since that fateful day, and the events in THE DOMINO KILLER bring that secret to the surface, with chilling results.

Neil White can tell a gripping crime tale, but for me it is really the relationships between his characters and the ways in which they respond to events where he excels most. I hadn't read any of his Parker brothers books before, so I didn't have any background to the characters and 'came in clean', so to speak.

Perhaps because of this, at the beginning I found myself enjoying THE DOMINO KILLER, and intrigued by what was going on and what might happen (White sets the hooks well), without being particularly blown away. The book fits nicely into the British police procedural subgenre - of which there are a sea of offerings. White writes in a straightforward style, so the elegance of the plotting and the depth of the characters, in particular, kind of sneaks up on the reader. Or this one, at least. Both Joe and Sam are very interesting characters - the more I got to know them, the more I was curious about them.

An understandable moment of teenage fear has gnawed away at Joe for 17 years, and as it's finally revealed in THE DOMINO KILLER, it undercuts how many people feel about Joe, and how he feels about himself. Neil White does a terrific job at demonstrating how all sorts of relationships - family, friends, colleagues - can be threatened by past secrets, and how everyone involved doesn't quite know what to think and how to act. There's anger, frustration, pain, in amongst the care and love and concern. Joe isn't the only one keeping a secret in THE DOMINO KILLER, so it's a theme that the reader gets to experience throughout the book.

There's a real humanity to the characters in THE DOMINO KILLER, despite the book having a particularly disturbing and chilling killer at its core. Life gets messy, people make mistakes... so what do you do then?

Even though I thought I had a lot of things worked out quite early, plot-wise, White impressively keeps up the intrigue and narrative drive, building to an exciting climax and throwing in some lovely twists. Quite where the events in THE DOMINO KILLER leave the Parker family is beautifully unclear.

Overall, THE DOMINO KILLER is a very enjoyable read that gets tenser and more layered as it goes along. The litmus test: would I read more about the Parker brothers in future? Absolutely.

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