First and foremost, thank you to John Nicholl for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.
After thoroughly enjoying his previous work, I jumped at the opportunity to read an early copy of John Nicholl’s latest work. Likely pulling on some of his past experiences in Child Protection, Nicholl tells a dark and somewhat macabre story that will pull the reader in, if only to learn whether justice is served by the end. When the Crown Prosecution Service declines to press charges after she is sexually assaulted by her ballet instructor, six year-old Rebecca Smith is left to fight with the demons that haunt her dreams. There is now a paedophile left lurking in the shadows and DS Gareth ‘Grav’ Gravel has no answers for the Smith family. Moving ahead seventeen years, Grav is now a DI, though some of his recent activity has left him hanging onto his job by the skin of his teeth. Fallout from his partner’s apparent suicide has just about pushed Grav to the brink. Perhaps a holiday in the Bahamas will rejuvenate him and allow him to reorganize himself. Meanwhile, little Rebecca Smith is now a grown woman, though the demons are still ever-present. She has secured a tech job within the West Wales Police Force in Caerystwyth, but her true passion is hunting for paedophiles who lure children online. Taking on various child personas, Smith is able to keep up significant banter with them, until just the right moment, when she lays a trap and has them come for a visit. Rather than an innocent child waiting for a ‘special friend’, Smith enacts the revenge she wished she could have done all those years ago; torturing, killing, and dismembering the bodies. When some of the body parts surface in a local body of water, new hire DS Laura Kesey must make sense of this, while Grav remains halfway around the world. Her initial investigation makes some headway, though how could she know that Smith is the fox in the henhouse, wiping out some key evidence that could close the case in short order. As Grav is summoned back early from holiday, he is confronted with a case that is not bringing in leads as swiftly as he might have hoped. Add to that, Smith makes herself known to him, laying on significant guilt for his past failures. Will it be enough to spur Grav on to catching this paedophile killer, or has the past all but defeated him once and for all? Dark and at times shocking in its bluntness, Nicholl provides the reader a free trip into those parts of society many hope never to encounter. Perfect for those readers who are willing to venture well out of their comfort zone and never to feel the same way about the vulnerability of children again, with a powerful ending to leave a lasting residue.
My current work in Child Protection has left me a little better suited to stomach some of the atrocities found in this book, but no one can be completely prepared. Nicholl has continued to impress me with his abilities, both in writing and storytelling. He uses some of his own knowledge and experiences, weaving it into stories of the most depraved portions of society. While some might try to shy away or candy coat, Nicholl thrives on telling it ‘like it is’, if only to pay respect to the victims and raise a red flag with the reader. The characters used herein show the various perspectives that are present in the world of paedophilia: the vulnerable child, the helpless coppers, the destroyed family members, and even the general public. Nicholl provides a narrative that is both full of despair for the victims and yet shows how an investigation might yield effective results, given the right break. While I applaud the Rebecca Smith character and how she might seek to enact revenge after her ordeal, I am slightly troubled how her childhood trauma might turn her into such a ruthless killer. I might expect her to be withdrawn and not fuelled by such hatred to the point of plotting numerous murders. Granted, I have not been through such an experience and Nicholl is sure to have a a better understanding of the mindset of such victims. If the reader is looking for a swift and happy ending, this is surely not the book for them. However, those who can handle a trip to the dark side, come join Nicholl on this unforgettable journey.
Kudos, Mr. Nicholl for this stunning piece. It chilled me to the core and I am sure many readers familiar with your work will be just as interested (dare I use the word, ‘excited’?) to tuck in. Always a pleasure to see what you have to offer.