The Puritan: echoes of Agent Starling

An old-school serial killer manhunt, The Puritan undoubtedly owes a lot to the books of Thomas Harris – notably The Silence of The Lambs and Red Dragon – and to TV series like Criminal Minds and Mindhunter. In particular there’s a big tip of the hat to Agent Clarice Starling: not only is the protagonist cut from similar cloth but the killer communicates by cramming messages into his victim’s intimate orifices.

The author definitely doesn’t attempt to bend the accepted conventions of the genre, so we have a killer who uses gruesome methods to despatch and display his victims. A female detective takes the lead in the investigation, and pushes herself and her colleagues to bring some small measure of justice to the dead. And to locate and stop the murderer, she must get inside his head to understand his sickening inspiration…

This plot is delivered at a decent pace, without unnecessary literary frills or flourishes.  The author has an engaging, accessible style of writing, and concentrates on proficient storytelling rather than deep, meaningful moments of soul-searching. Her protagonist, Boston homicide Detective Marti Zucco, is a plain-speaking, likeable type who follows the evidence to solve a mystery which is more of a police procedural than it is a story of psycho profiling.

In fact, we learn little about the killer or his psychotic pathology from his perspective. Instead there’s a series of flashbacks to ghoulish historical interludes, which reveal the horrors of the Salem witch trials in all their brutal ignorance. It’s up to Detective Zucco to unravel the modern day mystery and stop the killer in his tracks – when her colleagues are all too ready to assume this is just a weird spree of gangland rivalry.

For all its grisly subject matter, this is a surprisingly easy read. The author doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the party but she delivers a tense, carefully constructed thriller. She also avoids the pitfalls of many modern ‘psychological thrillers’. This story doesn’t get bogged down in domestic dramas, nor is it ruined by a cascade of increasingly improbable plot twists. Instead, The Puritan delivers a solidly satisfying experience – and I’ll look out for more from this author.

8/10
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Puritan by Birgitte Märgen is available at Amazon

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Looking for more serial killer thrills?

Try the Killing Sisters trilogy at Amazon

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