This intriguing mix of investigative procedural and road trip, wrapped around a tale of personal redemption, is given a chilling menace by a calculating, appallingly accomplished serial killer. Representing the good guys, Gerry Stokes is an actively unsympathetic protagonist. He starts the novel as a callow coward, the worst kind of journalist who sees only personal advancement in every crisis. He’s motivated by watching the Watergate-era newsmen – not inspired to reveal the truth and expose corruption but simply to seize the limelight himself. As time passes, he fulfils that potential and becomes an arrogant, bullying, antagonistic hack, the kind of man who sees women only in a sexual sense, and who exploits every nasty angle to give him the headlines he seeks, regardless of the lives he damages in the process.
Then, as the mystery thickens and he joins the dots between a series of grisly killings, Gerry’s perspective starts to change. Sure, he’s still mostly motivated by the story and a potential Pulitzer prize. And he’s still a slob. And a bigot. But the hunt between him and the killer becomes much more than a potential best-seller, and Gerry’s motivation changes from a self-interested guilt-trip into a genuine desire to see justice served, no matter the consequence.
I thoroughly enjoyed the investigative process as we follow Gerry’s early progress. He tracks down a decapitated female head and traces the victim back from Nashville to Sweden – the pages rushed past as he unpeeled the path of her progress, pounded pavements, checked hotel registers; all to confirm what could’ve been a wild goose chase theory. Author Simon Duke incorporates some clever plot conniptions and a selection of plausible supporting characters – each presented as a potential suspect for our consideration. In this respect, The Perfectionist echoes an old-fashioned whodunnit, where the reader gleefully participates in the investigation (although I totally missed the final twist…)
Inevitably, a book about a psychopathic murderer who mutilates his victims in order to perfect different techniques is going to have its gory bits. But the reader is insulated by the dispassionate delivery of the crime scene descriptions. Some sections of The Perfectionist could be a serial killer’s handbook, but they are almost clinically written. It’s like a particularly brutal biology lesson.
The editing and production of the ebook are far superior to most self-pubs, and there are only a few moments where an editor’s pen might’ve tightened things up a touch. I read Simon Duke’s first novel, Out Of Bounds, and The Perfectionist reveals how his skills have been honed since then. His writing is more fluid, the dialogue more natural. I suspect that if we could amputate the exclamation mark from the author’s keyboard, his writing would take another significant step forward.
The Perfectionist is something of an American epic, spanning three decades and sprawling from one side of the continent to the other. Yet, like the very best crime fiction, it tells a relatively simple story – of an isolated man, who is reunited with the better aspects of humanity through an encounter with the very worst that man can accomplish.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Perfectionist by Simon Duke is available as an ebook or paperback
We also reviewed Out Of Bounds by Simon Duke. Here’s what we thought of it