Reviewed in Australia on 21 August 2019
The first in a new series, THE NIGHT CALLER is a debut thriller by J.M. Hewitt featuring DS Carrie Flynn. The synopsis for the book is a little misleading, however, as it refers to the disappearance of Carrie's own sister some twenty years prior which, while giving the impression that it was to feature heavily, was merely only highlighted as a part of Carrie's backstory. It did, though, offer some promise of a future revisit to the her sister's case in the closing pages.
I was quite excited to begin this new series as I do love to get to know the main players as they develop over the course of a few books. But if I was expecting it to be like any other police procedural I would be disappointed. And I was, on that point. And even after finishing it yesterday, I'm still unsure how I feel about it. It was part police procedural, part thriller, but part something else. And yet I am still undecided.
A serial killer is roaming the canals in Manchester with twelve victims - all male - in the past 6 years. Dubbed 'The Pusher' for his particular MO (modus operandi) of pushing his victims into the freezing black waters of the canal, DS Carrie Flynn has been tasked with the job of catching him. Throughout the investigation, Carrie is haunted by the image of a man she caught a glimpse of at one of the scenes the previous year and believes that he is the man they are after. The memory of a distinctive tattoo he bore and his self-assured smile torments her knowing that he had been so close.
Emma Robinson is at home pondering what time her son Jordan will be home when she catches sight of a scene of a story unfolding on the late night news. Behind the reporter is an item, a scarf, left hanging on a rail by the canal...distinctive to those know it for its bright lime green thread stitched down its centre. Jordan's scarf. Four year old Nia from next door had stitched it as a surprise for Jordan, unaware she was ruining an expensive Armani item. Emma's blood ran cold. Just hours before she had warned Jordan to be careful as The Pusher was still out there, his hunting ground - the canals. But Jordan had brushed her off stating he only went for gay men...and he certainly wasn't that! Now it looks as if Jordan was The Pusher's latest victim, as Emma grabbed her coat and raced down to the canal to see for herself.
Jade is Emma's neighbour and probably her best friend. She had first arrived as a 15 year old pregnant schoolgirl, moving in with her Nan who lived in the terrace next door to Emma. As Emma herself had been 16 when falling pregnant with Jordan, she and Jade soon became friends with a mutual bond and understanding of their shared predicaments...despite their 10 year age gap. Then tragedy struck when Jade fell from the roof and lost the baby. Her parents, who had banished her for the duration of her 'confinement', now saw that the problem had resolved itself and Jade was to return home. But Jade didn't want to go back home. She enjoyed living with Nan and her time with Emma and Jordan. So when Nan had a fall and broke her leg, it was agreed that Jade would stay on and help out. Then when Nan died suddenly, Jade - now 22 - was distraught with grief but found solace in the unlikely of places. But that was short-lived when she discovered she was, once again, pregnant. With the threat of having to leave her home that had been in her Nan's name, the council then agreed to transfer the tenancy over to Jade with the prospect of her becoming a single mum. And then Nia was born.
From her living room window, Jade watches Emma come and go next door, and with Jordan missing, believed to have been The Pusher's lates victim, she is unsure with what to say to her friend. Emma, who is in denial that her son could be dead, spends most of her time trawling the areas surrounding the canals in the hope that she can find Jordan.
Then throw in Jordan's father Martin, who has never met him, with questions as to why was he never told about him; a young man called Lee who for all intents and purposes appears to be the only person to know anything about Jordan; and a nosy curtain-twitching neighbour who sees more than she lets on, and who has secrets of her own. Each character has their own important part to play in this very different thriller.
We do also get a glimpse from The Pusher's POV as well throughout with the odd chapter. He has his own story to tell...and where he fits into it all.
While the narrative is written in the third person throughout, it is The Pusher's that is the only one in the first - giving it that more personal perspective and a connection to him. Everyone has their own perspectives in this story but it's The Pusher's we see inside of.
One of the problems I think I had with this book was with Carrie. She is meant to be the main character but instead she was more of a peripheral one. It was too difficult to connect with her because we don't get a whole lot of insight into her - just a sprinkling here and there. The synopsis dangled the promise of the disappearance of Carrie's sister but that had nothing to do with anything here. We didn't even see a lot of detective work either. And although Carrie Flynn is meant to be the prime protagonist, the story features primarily around Emma and Jade - with them being the main characters in this story. It did give it a different angle and edge to it, but I hope in future books featuring Carrie she is given the main lead. After all, it IS meant to be her show.
But probably my biggest issue was the glacial speed in which everything seemed to move. For a thriller, it was incredibly slow and somewhat convoluted in parts. I enjoyed some of it but not all of it. There was far too much going on at times. And I feel terrible when I don't enjoy a book as much as I had hoped I would because I know that the author has put so much work into writing it and reviewing it will be difficult. I didn't NOT enjoy it, but I didn't love it either. As this is the first in the series, I am hoping we get to see more of Carrie in the future and the characters featured in her cases are the peripheral characters. It was an interesting perspective to take but it made it difficult to connect with Carrie because we just didn't see enough of her to really know her.
Psychological in nature, THE NIGHT CALLER is filled with twists that, although I guessed at about 10% into the story, made for an incredibly interesting read once it got going. Two major reveals I guessed at such an early stage with a third about halfway through. Despite my own hunches as to what the revelations would be being correct, this never ruins it or dissuades my enjoyment of the story.
I must say that Jeanette did a wonderful job in her vivid descriptions of the canals. I found myself looking deep into the black waters and seeing nothing but blackness. There was a real eeriness about those canals and she brought that to life in vivid array. Her ability to make that aspect come to life with just a few paragraphs brings more to the story than if pages and pages were written to describe the one scene. I am not a fan of overt description, which can put me to sleep if there is too much of it...like a documentary. I like dialogue, interaction, backstory rather than a whole chapter devoted to the description of an empty warehouse.
Although I saw it coming long before it happened, I enjoyed the ending, as heartbreaking as it was, but it was fitting. This would have to be the first book in which the reader feels empathy for the killer. There is also a lesson to be learnt in the dysfunctionality of some families in the mistakes Emma made bringing up her son as well as Carrie's obvious strained relationship with her own mother.
If I was asked about its genre I would have to say that THE NIGHT CALLER is one part police procedural and two parts thriller. It's certainly different. A chilling story that will bring out a range of emotions as you watch everything unfold.
Do I recommend this book? Yes, I think so. While I found it very slow in parts, the story does have promise...as does the series with this being its introduction. I recommend you go into it with an open mind. You may enjoy it more than I did...and I really wish I did enjoy it more than I did. There were parts I really enjoyed while others I just felt moved too slowly. Even now, I am still unsure how I feel about this book in its entirety. But don't take my word for it. Grab yourself a copy and check it out! You may be surprised!
I would like to thank #JMHewitt, #NetGalley and #Bookouture for an ARC of #TheNightCaller in exchange for an honest review.