Rob Kitchin’s The Rule Book arrived on my doorstep* at precisely the moment I closed the back cover on P D Martin’s The Killing Hands. I decided this was a serendipitous event and rather than waste any time pondering which book to pluck out of the TBR bookcase next I headed straight to Ireland for my second book in the 2010 Global Reading Challenge.
At a Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in the mountains outside Dublin a young woman has been killed: affixed to a bed via a sword threading through her mouth and neck. Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy is put in charge of the case which soon turns from a routine murder investigation into something far more sinister. The girl’s killer, who calls himself The Raven, has left calling cards and the first chapter of a book about how to commit the perfect series of murders. If he is to be believed there will be six more murders over the subsequent days and McEvoy and the team don’t have nearly enough information to even know where to start looking for him.
This book is the best I can ever recall reading in the way it depicts the wretched desperation that the police must experience in the face of something as truly awful as people being randomly and brutally killed and being unable to wade through the morass of evidence in time to save lives. So often in fictional hunts for serial killers (especially on TV shows like Criminal Minds) investigators take such things in their stride which is at least as disturbing to me as the killings themselves. The Rule Book really gave me a sense of how hideous it must be to know people are relying on you for their safety but despite the fact you’re working all hours and trying your best you just can’t get the right answers in time.
On top of feeling like he’s letting down an entire city McEvoy struggles throughout the book to deal with his own recent widowhood, the increasingly nasty office politics that inevitably surround such a high-profile case and the pure madness that is the modern media (another aspect to the story that I thought was depicted in a depressingly accurate way). He’s a fantastic character: far from perfect but never giving up despite provocation and I can’t be the only one who just wanted to give the man a hug. The other characters are also realistic though not all as sympathetic. McEvoy’s immediate superior, DCS Tony Bishop, whose skills seem to be more in the arse-covering line than the detecting line, is an all too familiar beast but there are friends too for McEvoy in the form of a humorous pathologist and a profiler brought in towards the end of the case.
When I saw that the book was a about a serial killer I was a little worried because they’re not my favourite kind of crime novel (I know there are not nearly so many serial killers in the world as there are in fiction so I sometimes struggle with the credibility factor) but the subject was handled well. Even though there are snippets of action seen from the killer’s point of view the book is really about the events that happen and the people who are investigating them. The story is full of suspense as ‘we’ (and it does feel like ‘we’) race along with police to see if The Raven can be stopped in time.
I was also pleased to find The Rule Book has a very solid sense of its location. From the iconic picture of the statue of Big Jim Larkin in Dublin’s city centre on the cover to the use of local language, particularly in dialogue, to descriptions of an interesting variety of locations in and around the city this is a very Irish book. I have visited Dublin a couple of times and I found myself easily able to transport myself back there while reading along.
On one level this is a ripping crime fiction yarn which would be pleasing enough but there’s more to it than that. It also made me ponder about the role we all play in making things impossible for police in such circumstances with our insatiable desire for gory details and our seeming unwillingness to accept that real life is rarely, if ever, as simple as portrayed on shows like CSI. The Rule Book is more polished, intelligent and compelling than we have a right to expect from a debut crime fiction writer. I truly hope that Kitchin’s problems in finding a publisher for his next project are only temporary.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Publisher: Pen Press ; ISBN: 978-1-906710-57-6 Length: 352 pages Setting Dublin, Ireland, present-day
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
*That is literally true, the delivery guy lands my packages from Book Depository on my front porch welcome mat without ever bringing his snazzy vespa to a complete halt and no, thank you, we will not be discussing how much practice he’s had to perfect his throwing techniques for the easily recognisable packages from Book Depository.