Friday, March 26, 2021


THE JIGSAW MAN by Nadine Matheson (HQ, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

When body parts are found on the banks of the River Thames in Deptford, DI Angelica Henley is tasked with finding the killer. Eerie echoes of previous crimes lead Henley to question Peter Olivier, aka The Jigsaw Killer, who is currently serving a life sentence for a series of horrific murders.

When a severed head is delivered to Henley's home, she realises that the copycat is taking a personal interest in her and that the victims have not been chosen at random.

To catch the killer, Henley must confront her own demons - - and when Olivier escapes from prison, she finds herself up against not one serial killer, but two. 

I'd been excited to read THE JIGSAW MAN by debut crime writer Nadine Matheson since seeing her speak on a panel with Vaseem Khan, SA Cosby, and Lloyd Otis at last year's Locked Up Festival. A criminal lawyer in London, Matheson had won the City University Crime Writing competition then completed the Masters in Creative Writing (Crime/Thriller Novels), a course I hold in high regard given it's taught by the brilliant Claire McGowan and I've spoken to past grads at crime writing festivals.

Matheson brings a new voice and perspective to the darker end of police procedurals, waters where the likes of Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, and Luca Veste play so well. THE JIGSAW MAN is an exciting tale entwined with serial killers, plural, that delivers a good mix of familiarity and freshness.

Detective Inspector Angelica Henley is struggling professionally and personally. Perhaps even failing. At work she's been deskbound since returning to duty after a vicious stabbing that easily could have ended more than her career. At home her husband is getting increasingly frustrated with her attitude, behaviour, and choices when it comes to their marriage and young daughter. He wants her to put them first, but Henley has instead retreated into her job; a dangerous choice, not just physically. 

As a black woman working for the Met, Henley's wider family and community isn't exactly ecstatic about her career choice either. When body parts begin to appear near the River Thames, DI Henley is put back on more active duty, and sucked into a case that forces her to confront her past traumas. 

Body parts and a serial killer. Is someone copy-catting the notorious Jigsaw Killer, Peter Olivier, who Henley put behind bars but barely survived? Or is Olivier manipulating things from prison?

There's an awful lot to like about Matheson's debut, which is a very good read. I was increasingly fascinated by DI Henley, who along with being dedicated with a keen sense of justice and wanting to help can also be frustrating and foolish. She's messily human, even if readers may not 'like' her or the choices she makes at all times. Matheson gives us a strong look at the impact of crime on those who try to solve it, the PTSD that can follow violent incidents and threaten relationships and more. DI Henley is doing her best in tough circumstances, but still ends up hurting others with her behaviour and choices. 

Olivier is an interesting character - a villain who serves as something of a 'tweener' character, both chilling and charming, both helping and harming our hero. There's notes of Hannibal Lecter, though that's a rather unfair or overblown comparison to draw of course, for any author let alone a debutant. 

Henley's new partner, Salim Ramouter, is a bit of a gem, providing an interesting foil to our heroine with his inexperience and enthusiasm tempered by his own problems on the family front. Matheson has a pretty good touch for character overall, across the entire cast. There's shades of grey and plenty of very human messiness. That, combined with the diverse perspectives makes for an intriguing read that offers something of a fresh spin on the serial killer sub-genre, from a promising new voice. 

Overall, THE JIGSAW MAN is a pacy crime thriller with plenty of tension and some nice character depth, that flows well and explores some interesting issues beyond solving the case. Worth a look. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed Kiwi lawyer who now lives in London and writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. Craig's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020.

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