The 2012 edition of the Crime Fiction Alphabet kicked off a couple of weeks ago (yes, I've slipped behind so far), and this week we are up to the letter 'C'. Tempting as it is to do a post about myself - just kidding - I think it's only appropriate that I feature COLLECTING COOPER by Paul Cleave, which has recently been released in New Zealand after getting good reviews overseas. Three C's in all, so Mr Cleave beats me there.
COLLECTING COOPER is the fifth of Cleave's dark Christchurch-set thrillers, and follows BLOOD MEN, which won the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Well, follows in sequence, if not in protagonist. In fact, COLLECTING COOPER sees - for the first time - Cleave bringing back one of his four protagonists for an encore. Perhaps the start of a series character?
Here's my review:
There’s a significant change in Cantabrian Paul Cleave’s latest dark thriller... For those who’ve read and enjoyed Cleave’s internationally bestselling crime novels, don’t worry – Collecting Cooper is still packed with his usual crackling prose, taut pacing, compelling characters, moments of brutal violence, dashes of black humour, and undercurrents of unease. It’s just that this, his fifth novel, sees the return of troubled ex-cop turned private investigator Theo Tate (from Cemetery Lake); the first time Cleave has had a recurring ‘hero’, as such.
While supporting characters and storylines have overlapped and intertwined, each of Cleave’s previous books have been told through the eyes of a different troubled character, with troubled being a huge euphemism in many cases: serial killer Joe masquerades as a developmentally-challenged police janitor in The Cleaner; Charlie tries to uncover whether he witnessed or perpetrated a brutal double-murder in The Killing Hour; Tate spirals into alcoholism and worse in Cemetery Lake; and accountant Edward fears he’s inherited his imprisoned father’s violent streak as he chases his wife’s killers in Blood Men.
Cleave has become an absolute master at getting readers inside the head of someone with a view well and truly askew, of getting us to care enough about such people (or at least be fascinated by them), despite their failings and faults, to keep us engaged and the pages whirring as we follow their viewpoint throughout his helter-skelter storylines.
Collecting Cooper opens with Tate walking free from Christchurch Prison, where he found himself thanks to bad choices made in Cemetery Lake, into a sweltering heatwave on the outside. Broke and directionless, his plans of avoiding his past life come to nought when first an ex-colleague, Detective Schroder, then the father of the girl a drunken Tate hurt in a car crash, come to him for help finding people who’ve disappeared. Schroder wants Tate to help track a murderer known as Melissa X, an associate of the Christchurch Carver (Joe in The Cleaner). Lawyer Donovan Green wants Tate to find Emma, the girl Tate went to prison for almost killing. Emma’s disappeared, as has her university psychology professor, Cooper Riley. As Tate takes up the trail, he discovers a link to an abandoned mental institution on the outskirts of the city; a place where very bad things happened, years ago.
Cleave’s work definitely sits at the darker end of the crime fiction spectrum, far away from the cosy country house killings of fellow Cantabrian Dame Ngaio Marsh, whose name and likeness adorns the New Zealand crime writing award that Cleave won for Blood Men last year.
Despite the darkness, Cleave is no schlock-meister; the blood and brutality amongst his pages is merely one part of a compelling tale (although it may be too much for some). He even raises important issues such as violence against women, the lack of support for those with mental difficulties, and the public’s fascination with serial killers – but rather than screaming such issues from the rooftops, they’re just woven through a tale that fizzes with ferocity. They’re texture, not message, in an exciting book where characterisation, such as Tate’s stumble vaguely towards some sort of redemption, shines brightest of all.
You can read more about Paul Cleave and Collecting Cooper here:
- Kirkus Review of Collecting Cooper
- Review by Kevin Burton Smith at Mystery Scene magazine
- Publisher's Weekly review of Collecting Cooper
- Paul Cleave talks about Collecting Cooper (YouTube)
- Review by Karen at AustCrimeFiction
- Herald on Sunday interview with Cleave following Ngaio Marsh Award
- 9mm interview with Paul Cleave
- Author website