There’s been a huge amount of buzz online for Written in Blood, the new psychological thriller by Chris Carter. Fans of the Robert Hunter series were counting the days before the new title’s release last week. I’m new to Carter and Hunter and I can see the fans’ point: this is writing that ties together paradoxes. It is full of contradictions yet is utterly credible. It is a long book but the pages fly past. It is an incredibly detailed exploration of what lies inside the mind of a serial killer, without putting that killer at the centre of the narrative. The crimes involve activities that you really do not want to imagine, but they are balanced by all-too-relatable vignettes about early morning coffee in Los Angeles. There is a lot of violence, but the cycle cannot be stopped by brute force alone.
The plot is simple, its execution anything but. There’s a serial killer, who writes down details of what he has done. His diary is inadvertently stolen by a skilful pickpocket. The police get the diary and take it from there. There is a huge amount of information about what is going on and it as though you are standing alongside Hunter and his sidekick Garcia as they undertake their investigation. This is the level of detail:
Hunter poured two cups of coffee for himself and his partner before opening the first image, titled ‘page 1’. All images had been exported in high resolution, which made them very easy to read.
Now that sounds a bit dull, right? but it never seems that way in practice. It means that the action scenes, of which there are many and which include an amazing cat-and-mouse-chase-cum-treasure-hunt are adequately balanced. As part of this we will learn about different kinds of gun, angles of bullet trajectory and what you can and can’t order on LAPD’s dime if placed in one of their safe houses.
This is not a simple police procedural, though. At its most interesting it does two things. First it is a portrayal of a battle of wills: Hunter versus the serial killer. The killer is good at what he does, really good; the police occasionally grab the initiative. Carter takes some glee I think at ensuring that the police move ahead only when they think about things or do clever things in one of their many labs. When they are running around with guns or being ‘the best of the best’ things tend to fall apart – the one important exception to this is the one-on-one chase where Hunter pushes himself to the limit and beyond. I am interested in how the individual versus the team plays out in others in the series.
Second, this book really explores what makes a serial killer and how you find their weak spot. I understand Carter used to be a psychologist and he draws heavily on that expertise. As a result, plot twists we’ve seen before are given some context. There is some more of this ‘individual versus society’ theme. Indeed, although there is an intimation that Hunter had a failed relationship in a previous book, he, the pickpocket and the killer are all on their own in the world, the latter two changing their identities as needed to survive. We don’t even learn the killer’s name until page 472. The ending is clever too, brushing up against an idea of redemption in a way that is slightly unwelcome but probably necessary. By the end, Carter has built up enough trust with the reader that we will let him go where he wants.
Vivid, immediate and full of energy.
Thanks to Simon and Schuster for the review copy, and to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.