Thursday, April 23, 2009
Shatter by Michael Robotham
Protagonist: Joe O’Loughlin
Setting: West Country
There is a moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectation, all faith, all desire. I own that moment. It belongs to me. That’s when I hear the sound. The sound of a mind breaking.
It’s not a loud crack like when bones shatter or a spine fractures or a skull collapses. And it’s not something soft and wet like a heart breaking. It’s a sound that makes you wonder how much pain a person can endure; a sound that shatters memories and lets the past leak into the present; a sound so high that only the hounds of hell can hear it.
Can you hear it? Someone is curled up in a tiny ball crying softly into an endless night.
Joe O’Loughlin, who we met in Robotham’s first book, The Suspect, is back, this time teaching college psychology as his Parkinson’s disease gains on him. He’s asked by police to help talk down a woman who is perched on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, naked except for her Jimmy Choo shoes and with the word “slut” written across her stomach in lipstick. Even stranger, she’s talking into a cell phone. O’Loughlin is unable to save her; she jumps to her death. A few days later, her business partner is found dead, also naked, hanging from a tree in a park.
Why would these women kill themselves, seemingly on the orders of a person on the other end of their cell phones? With police, and the help of friend Vincent Ruiz, a retired chief inspector, O’Loughlin figures out the how, then the why and finally the who. From there, it’s a cat-and-mouse game with one of the most chilling villains I’ve come across lately. This is a man who has come mentally unhinged, and there’s no reasoning with him. The book’s title refers to the killer’s M.O.: he “shatters” the psyche of his victims. After O’Loughlin is able to prevent a third murder, the villain strikes close to home. At this point, the tension is so high that, as a reader, I wasn’t able to come up for breath until the end.
I knew Robotham was a good writer, but after his last book, The Night Ferry, I was a bit disappointed. This book has put him back on my list of must-read crime writers. Shatter is far and away his best. If you listen to audiobooks, then I further recommend “reading” it in that form. The narrator, Sean Barrett, only enhances the story. There’s one point where O’Loughlin and the villain are having a rapid-fire conversation; Barrett modulates the voices enough that you always know who is speaking.
This book gets a perfect score from me. In fact, it’s the best book I’ve read so far this year.