Shatter, Michael Robotham

One afternoon Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychologist, is asked to help in a crisis situation: a naked woman is standing on a bridge preparing to jump to her death. Joe talks to her briefly but she jumps anyway. Several days later the woman’s teenage daughter, Darcy, appears on Joe’s doorstep and begs him to help her convince Police that her mother didn’t commit suicide. Joe begins to wonder if, somehow, the woman could have been coerced into jumping. He calls on his old friend, now-retired Detective Vincent Ruiz for some help and together they talk to the local police.

Joe O’Loughlin has appeared in 3 books now although they can all be read as standalones. Each time I meet him I find something else to love. Unlike many of the protagonists in crime fiction Joe is not a troubled loner nor does he have any super human abilities. Even his skills in reading people, which he is mostly very good at, let him down some times. He’s smart, funny and heart-wrenchingly self aware. I particularly like the way Joe deals with the personal issues in his life in a very realistic way. He’s not always sensible (who is?) but nor does he go to the extremes that you see in some fiction that make you wonder how the person could possibly have survived adolescence.

But the real joy of Joe is the way he interacts with the people around him: his family, his old friend Ruiz and, in this book, young Darcy and the DI in charge of the case, Veronica Cray. There’s always a dry, sarcastic wit to his relationships and it gives the book an undercurrent of humour which is a welcome relief among the dark subject matter. I think the natural-sounding dialogue that peppers the book is Robotham’s best writing and something that sets him apart from other authors.

Now comes the heretical part of this review: I didn’t find Shatter particularly suspenseful. It was never much of a whodunnit (the culprit was revealed quite early on) nor, really, a why or a even a how dunnit (again all of those were revealed without fanfare and long before the end of the book). In the end it was what happens next story which, especially towards the end, was disappointingly predictable. Most of the story is told from Joe’s perspective but there are also short chapters told from the killer’s point of view and in them he talks about his capacity to break a person’s mind. Although the killer’s methods, described at some length which somehow made them less scary, led to extreme consequences I was never as gobsmackingly shocked as I was supposed to be by the notion that one person could manipulate another into doing something truly awful. I’ve read history, I watch the news and I’ve seen teenage girls in action. So, I never stepped over that line that separates me from knowing I’m in a fictional world to wondering if, maybe, that noise I heard outside the window isn’t evil that somehow leapt from the page.

Perhaps I have suffered a little too much from the hype that has surrounded this book but it wasn’t the ‘wow’ read for me that others have described. The characters and dialogue are excellent, and well worth reading the book for, but, for me, the story wasn’t as engaging as Robotham’s two earlier books featuring Joe O’Loughlin (Suspect and Lost). I think it relied a little too heavily on one big, hairy, audacious plot point and because that didn’t quite work for me the rest was a little flat.