Review: Scream by Nigel McCrery

DCI Mark Lapslie of the Essex Police is in Pakistan for a conference when he receives an email that sends him scurrying home. Attached to the message is a sound file of a woman screaming and because it has been sent directly to him Lapslie thinks something sinister is afoot. The fact it will allow him a reasonable excuse to get out of presenting at the conference is a bonus. At the same time the woman who is normally his Sergeant, Emma Bradbury, is being put in charge of a case of her own. The badly mutilated body of a young woman has been found on nearby Canvey Island and the investigation must be put into motion. When Lapslie returns it becomes evident there might be a link between the case and the sound file but the pair have to trawl through old cases to find a pattern of behaviour.

In my review of Still Waters, the first book in this series, I wrote

Rather than larger than life serial killers making suits out of human skin (Thomas Harris) or similarly fantastical yarns this was a story that one can imagine happening in the real world.

Sadly from my point of view the subsequent two books have strayed further and further into ‘suits of human skin territory’, to the point where this one will be the last I’ll read of the series. It’s not that the book is bad or poorly written; rather that it seems consumed with describing hideous violence and mutilations experienced by the killer’s victims, either as they happen or as reconstructed by the pathologist and various forensic experts and I simply have no interest in reading such descriptions.  In the first book of this series the few scenes of real violence (one of which I still remember vividly to this day) stood out because of their rarity

Leaving the gore aside for a moment there a positive elements of the novel. The Mark Lapslie character is developed nicely, especially for those who have been with him since the beginning. He has a condition called synaesthesia which in his case manifests itself by causing him to experience strong tastes whenever he hears something. In the past this has been very debilitating for him but here is getting treatment that is working and he is able to function far more normally than in the earlier books. It’s interesting to watch him enjoy his new experiences like eating a spicy meal or attending a concert. His depiction as being both excited and a little scared of all this felt very natural to me. His relationship with Emma, who has become romantically involved with a known (but never convicted) criminal, is well-drawn too.

Without adding any particular twist or nuance to the long line of novels featuring crazed serial killers on a quest only they understand I didn’t think the plot of Scream anything more than serviceable. On top of the gore factor I frankly didn’t find the killer (who I thought obvious early on) remotely credible (though to tell you why would be a jolly big spoiler) and there were several other plot points that were far too obvious as devices.

I listed the first book in this series among my top ten books of the year for 2008 because I thought it offered something unique to the genre and the crime at its heart was an all too believable one which involved real people I could care about. So it is a little sad for me to see the series head in the blood-soaked direction of a hundred similar tomes published each year, but knowing how my tastes are rarely in sync with those of the mainstream this probably means the Lapslie books will now sell by the tonne. I shan’t be reading any more though.

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Scream has been reviewed at Euro Crime.

I have previously reviewed Still Waters and Tooth and Claw

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 2/5
Publisher Quercus [2010]
ISBN 9781849161176
Length 403 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #3 in the DCI Mark Lapslie series
Source I bought it

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7 Responses to Review: Scream by Nigel McCrery

  1. Jose Ignacio says:

    Thanks for your review Bernadette, it certainly looks like sad news to hear that “the series head in the blood-soaked direction of a hundred similar tomes”.

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  2. Bernadette – I’d gotten the impression from other reviews of Scream that this series was headed in exactly the direction you outline so well. It’s a pity that’s happening, and I have to say, this is one book I won’t be reading.

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  3. Maxine says:

    I liked the first book too, Bernadette, which I read because of your review. I read the second but did not like it as much, though it had some good points (advise people fond of animals not to read it). I decided then, though, that I probably would not read more because of that combination of yuk and dumbed-down-ness which to me shouts “I want to be a TV series” (the author is already a TV scriptwriter I think). I got an unsolicted ARC of this one but after reading the first couple of pages about a murderer who wanted to see how long/loud he (?) could make his victims scream I chucked it straight onto the charity shop pile. (I hesitated a bit but on balance I thought the shop would make a pound or two and some people do actually like reading this kind of stuff – and they would not have been misled by the cover).
    Pity as you say as this could have been a good series, but it has degenerated, it seems, into formula “typical mediocre TV plot with gore in place of real suspense, and an “unusual” detective”.

    Sorry if this all sounds rather prejudiced as I have not actually read this book! But the signs were there in #2.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Televisual is definitely a word that fits this book Maxine and I don’t blame you for not reading further. I think I must have pre-ordered this before I had actually read TOOTH AND CLAW (the second book) because I don’t think I’d have ordered it afterwards. I’ll admit to skimming the torture passages.

      I know many people are not turned off by this kind of thing and that’s fine, I probably had a higher tolerance for it myself in my younger days. But I much prefer a book that leaves things to the imagination and ones where the violence has a context other than ‘another sick bugger’s psycopathy’.

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      • Anonymous says:

        For some reason WP won’t leave me logged in to my own account when I’m using IE7 so I keep popping up as anonymous on my own blog. Annoying

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  4. What a pity because like Maxine and you I enjoyed his first book thoroughly. Not totally credibly, but creepy in a very nice way.

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  5. Kathy D. says:

    You have a lot better taste than the publishers and writers do who churn out this torture/mutilation/blood-and-guts pulp. And this passing for writing? I just do not understand why publishers want this stuff and it scares me to think about those who read it, both the “dumbing down” and the gratuitous violence. I was happy recently to read a book by Antonio Tabucchi because it had some concepts and dialogue to chew on. Whatever direction this style of writing is going in, I’m not following it. .

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