A genteel seaside town on England’s south coast isn’t the usual setting for a homicidal maniac to start stalking his prey – but then, this killer is more than a little unusual. For a start, he sends his intended victims a letter which explains his peculiar personality – thus simultaneously providing the police with potential evidence and a minefield of misinformation. The recipients might have every right to be terrified: they don’t know how many letters he’s sent, nor how many people he intends to despatch. And at first the police don’t even know if they’re dealing with a sequence killer, because there appears to be no method to his mayhem…
This standalone mystery is a clever blend which mixes a modern serial-killer thriller with a golden age, Agatha-style traditional whodunnit. Literary enthusiasts will chortle in delight as the meaning behind the murders is revealed, and at the developing intellectual duel between the maverick detective and the murderous mastermind. I was rather wonderfully reminded of the 1970’s comedy-horror, Theatre of Blood, in which the cast are creatively killed in a series of ghoulish tributes to deaths in Shakespeare plays.
The plot rapidly romps along, making good use of familiar genre short-hand to avoid acres of unwanted exposition. Ben, the protagonist, is a drifting ex-copper, in conflict with his ex-colleagues, at odds with his ex-wife; struggling to keep connected to his teenage daughter. He’s personally drawn into the investigation when his daughter receives one of the threatening letters and, operating outside of the system, he sees more of the bigger picture. With a little informal help from a few old friends on the force, he makes the daring deductive leaps which accelerate his investigation ahead of the plodding official procedure. Not unlike Sherlock or Poirot, in fact.
As usual, I found the mysterious murderer rather more interesting than the private life of the fairly orthodox investigator. The opening chapter – the killer’s menacing letter – is simply spectacular. It’s an artful introduction to a psychopath who may or may not be dissembling about his character traits, and it certainly worked at pulling me vividly into the story.
Later on I wasn’t quite so sure that his motivation or methods stood up to close scrutiny – but hey, the guy’s a psychopath, so you can’t expect him to behave rationally, can you? Equally, you have to keep a reasonably tight lid on your disbelief at the series of coincidences which propel Ben into the centre of the investigation — but hey, this is fiction, so of course a lone wolf can succeed where an entire police force founders.
I May Kill You was an entirely diverting and entertaining experience. Not grim or gruesome, not disrupted by daft plot twists, implausible narrators or fractured timelines. Just good old-fashioned storytelling of an engaging intrigue.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
I May Kill You by Keith Dixon is available at Amazon