Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th February 2021 from Bonnier Zaffre
My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read an early copy for review
London’s latest art installation is a real killer . . .
An underground artist leaves three glass cabinets in Trafalgar Square that contain a gruesome installation: the corpses of three homeless men. With the artist promising more to follow, newly-promoted Detective Inspector Grace Archer and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, must race against time to follow what few clues have been left by a savvy killer. As more bodies are exhibited at London landmarks and live streamed on social media, Archer and Quinn’s pursuit of the elusive killer becomes a desperate search. But when Archer discovers that the killer might be closer than she originally thought – she realises that he has his sights set firmly on her
. . . He is creating a masterpiece. And she will be the star of his show.
Every now and then I get a tingle on the back of my neck that is the signal that I have found a book that is exactly what I wanted and needed to read. The last time was MW Craven’s The Puppet Show and the subsequent series of Washington Poe books has more than lived up to that initial frisson of excitement.
Now David Fennell has come forward with D.I. Grace Archer, the police inspector with a past to overcome and her steady DS, Harry Quinn who is himself carrying a burden that weighs heavily. Archer has recently been promoted and is now based in Charing Cross Station, a station where a number of the detective team and her boss have good reason to resent her presence.
Flawed detectives with pasts to overcome are a trope of crime fiction, but how that is handled can make all the difference and here Fennell uses it lightly enough to make Grace interesting without letting it impinge too much on the plot and leaving sa lot to be revealed in what will hopefully be future books.
Right from the off we are in dark territory. An unknown man in a café is sitting, watching and choosing his victims from those who pass through after first identifying them though their social media profiles. Thus begins a process of catfishing, where our mystery man courts his victims by telling them what they need to hear and they, without much of a second thought, fall for the smooth charm. A slimeball stalker is on no-one’s list of desirable dates, but this one is clever.
Grace Archer’s first day at her new station is a bumpy one. She’s hardly got her coat off when an she is called out to an art installation in Trafalgar Square which is causing a commotion. When she sees it she realises straight away that this is a murder scene. Three men are on display and they are being live streamed across the world on social media.
The artist, self styled as @nonymous has called this gruesome piece, ‘The Forsaken’. So begins an intensely creep, chilling crime novel in which this artist embarks on a killing spree using ever more ‘creative’ techniques for an audience that can’t get enough of it. Fennell’s use of social media shows us that in so many ways we lay ourselves open to abuse and are becoming accustomed to accept anything that is laid before us at face value. Nothing is shocking any more except the very shocking and then it is acceptable if labelled ‘art’.
More of these murderous installations appear and Archer finds herself drawn far more deeply into the investigation than she would have wished, and suffers in her role for that. Fennell gives us lots of suspects to consider many of them unsavoury characters but pleasingly, the victims here are more than cyphers, but are portrayed as family members, friends and partners and their lives you know, counted for someone, making them authentically drawn.
Though many of the chapters are written from the perspective of D.I. Grace Archer, you also get a range of perspectives from some of the victims to the killer, adding to the character depth. Grace’s own closest relationship shows her humanity in a stark contrast to a violent, psychopathic killer.
The Art of Death ramps up the tension brilliantly, each gruesome murder building on the last until the final exciting and gripping denouement.
Verdict: I loved The Art of Death with its well-drawn characters, its fast pace and the layered, twisty plotting with loads of misdirection. With a compelling protagonist and a chilling and uber creepy antagonist this book has everything you need to keep you enthralled into the wee small hours. I really hope there’s more of Grace Archer to come.
David Fennell was born in Belfast during the Troubles. Writing was his escape from Northern Ireland’s smothering political unrest. As a boy, he read Sherlock Holmes, Ian Fleming and Tolkien; books he still loves today. He left school at 16 and trained as a chef at Rupert Stanley College. With youthful dreams of a new life, he left Belfast for London in 1985 with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He worked in bars and restaurants and later worked as a writer in the software industry. David has played rugby for Brighton and was awarded the 2009 Player of the Year for the veteran’s team. He loves to cook and is learning to box. He lives in Brighton with his partner and their two dogs.