Review: Shatter, Michael Robotham

Title: Shatter

Author: Michael Robotham

Publisher: Sphere [2008]

ISBN: 978-0-7515-3731-4

Length: 470 pages

One afternoon Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychologist, is asked to help in a crisis situation: a naked woman is standing on a bridge preparing to jump to her death. Joe talks to her briefly but she jumps anyway. Several days later the woman’s teenage daughter, Darcy, appears on Joe’s doorstep and begs him to help her convince Police that her mother didn’t commit suicide. Joe begins to wonder if, somehow, the woman could have been coerced into jumping. He calls on his old friend, now-retired Detective Vincent Ruiz for some help and together they talk to the local police.

Joe O’Loughlin has appeared in 3 books now although they can all be read as standalones. Each time I meet him I find something else to love. Unlike many of the protagonists in crime fiction Joe is not a troubled loner nor does he have any super human abilities. Even his skills in reading people, which he is mostly very good at, let him down some times. He’s smart, funny and heart-wrenchingly self aware. I particularly like the way Joe deals with the personal issues in his life in a very realistic way. He’s not always sensible (who is?) but nor does he go to the extremes that you see in some fiction that make you wonder how the person could possibly have survived adolescence.

But the real joy of Joe is the way he interacts with the people around him: his family, his old friend Ruiz and, in this book, young Darcy and the DI in charge of the case, Veronica Cray. There’s always a dry, sarcastic wit to his relationships and it gives the book an undercurrent of humour which is a welcome relief among the dark subject matter. I think the natural-sounding dialogue that peppers the book is Robotham’s best writing and something that sets him apart from other authors.

Now comes the heretical part of this review: I didn’t find Shatter particularly suspenseful. It was never much of a whodunnit (the culprit was revealed quite early on) nor, really, a why or a even a how dunnit (again all of those were revealed without fanfare and long before the end of the book). In the end it was what happens next story which, especially towards the end, was disappointingly predictable. Most of the story is told from Joe’s perspective but there are also short chapters told from the killer’s point of view and in them he talks about his capacity to break a person’s mind. Although the killer’s methods, described at some length which somehow made them less scary, led to extreme consequences I was never as gobsmackingly shocked as I was supposed to be by the notion that one person could manipulate another into doing something truly awful. I’ve read history, I watch the news and I’ve seen teenage girls in action. So, I never stepped over that line that separates me from knowing I’m in a fictional world to wondering if, maybe, that noise I heard outside the window isn’t evil that somehow leapt from the page.

Perhaps I have suffered a little too much from the hype that has surrounded this book but it wasn’t the ‘wow’ read for me that others have described. The characters and dialogue are excellent, and well worth reading the book for, but, for me, the story wasn’t as engaging as Robotham’s two earlier books featuring Joe O’Loughlin (Suspect and Lost). I think it relied a little too heavily on one big, hairy, audacious plot point and because that didn’t quite work for me the rest was a little flat.

My rating 3.5/5

Other stuff

Shatter is a popular book among crime fiction bloggers so here are just a few of the links I found to reviews from people who all, I think, got a little more from this book than I did:

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6 Responses to Review: Shatter, Michael Robotham

  1. Maxine says:

    I have only skimmed your review because I plan to read this book very soon – Kerrie recommends it so very highly and CFR is pretty keen too. I felt pretty much the way you do about the first two in this series. I enjoyed reading them but I got the “he’s going round in circles” a bit feeling about them both, half way in. They will be good “holiday reading material” I am sure.

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  2. Cathy says:

    I have to admit that I found your review refreshing. I’m one of the few who aren’t enchanted by this author’s books. At this point I’ve read so much hype that I’m bound and determined to stay away from him (contrary soul that I am)!

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  3. bernadetteinoz says:

    Can’t say I blame you Cathy…hype does annoy me too. And there are so many other authors out there that I’m sure you’ll survive not reading this one. I have read 4 of Robotham’s books and only thoroughly enjoyed the first 2. The last one I read (which doesn’t feature Joe) was pretty terrible and this one was kind of in the middle – at least a full point of my rating is for Joe alone who is quite wonderful. But for me a great book has both characters AND story telling of equal quality and that just wasn’t present for me here.

    But wouldn’t the world be boring if we all agreed on everything?

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  5. Maxine says:

    I read this (and The Night Ferry) on holiday recently. I’d already read The Suspect and Lost. I have to say I was underwhelmed. The book was far too long. (I preferred The Night Ferry which was a bit more original, but that too was too long, a sense I obtained from the first two books in the “series” also.) I read several books on holiday about serial killers including this one, and frankly I am bored with them. They always seem to feature a killer who is always one step ahead of everyone else, and always seem to feature young woman being killed or terrorised in nasty ways that seem only to titillate. I did not find this book enlightening at all, and the way in which the killer obtained power via threatening his targets’ children (and describing in sick detail what he was doing to them) was rather disgusting.

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  6. bernadetteinoz says:

    Sorry that you were underwhelmed by the book Maxine although I am not entirely surprised. I agree it’s far too long (as most books are these days though). I saw Robotham speak here in Aus last year and he talked at length about this book and mentioned that the central plot point (the phone calls) was based on actual cases which I guess made me believe the premise more than i might otherwise have done. However this is one of those books that the more time goes by the more I find to dislike.

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