Review NAKED CRUELTY by Colleen McCullough

Taking place throughout 1968, NAKED CRUELTY is Colleen McCullough’s third novel to feature Police Captain Carmine Delmonico and his team who battle the evil doers of Holloman, Connecticut. The book opens with a brutal rape which the victim, Maggie Drummond, reports to Police although the rapist warns her not to. What soon becomes clear is that Maggie was not the first victim of this rapist, merely the first brave enough to come forward. After publicity it transpires that a number of have been raped in an exclusive suburb. However, even having a string of earlier cases from which to garner evidence, the crime spree is not solved quickly. Part of the reason for that is the Holloman PD is stretched to the limit with damaging vandalism, a high-profile kidnapping and the discovery of a weapons cache at a local high school on their plates at the same time as the vicious rapes.

As with the previous book in this series there are a lot of character and they all seem to be introduced in the first 15 minutes of the audio book. It really is an overwhelming number of people, most of whom seemed to me to be there to serve as example, usually an extreme one, of some social grouping or other and many of them don’t really service the plot at all. There are tokens of all the minorities and then the rich people (who are obscenely rich), the beautiful people (the most beautiful people to walk the earth) and the crazy/quirky people (who are the craziest/quirkiest people ever) and so on. None of them seemed terribly real to me and I didn’t care too much which of them got raped, burgled or killed.

Carmine Delmonico is depicted in the previous book and most of this one as an honest cop with great deductive powers and immense insight into humanity. He is, I think, a kind of nod to Holmes, Poirot and the like. I actually rather like him as a character but towards the end of the story he does something that was certainly immoral if not criminal which I found disappointing. Not because he had a failure, humans do that, but he wasn’t being depicted as a normal human until that point and I don’t think an author can have it both ways. He should have been either an ordinary bloke with ordinary human failings (which should have been demonstrated more than once in 2 books) or a superhuman character who can do no wrong.

The historical setting didn’t ring true either. McCullough does know how to write wonderful historical fiction (her Masters of Rome series is treat) but this was one was filled with an odd assortment of anachronisms including modern nutritional thinking, an entire town (apart from one lone policeman) who showed a depth of understanding of psychology and mental illness that would be forward-thinking today let alone in 1968 and a character closer to Super Nanny (to deal with Carmine’s wife’s child-rearing difficulties) than any real person would have been at that time. When genuine contemporary details were incorporated they appeared to have been randomly inserted without much thought or depth. We got a few mentions of Nixon and a (very) brief mention of the Black Power movement but it felt like name dropping to me and didn’t offer much genuine insight into the social upheaval of the day.

I am a huge fan of Colleen McCullough and her writing (as I wrote about upon reading her second book in this series) but I’m afraid this book just didn’t work for me on many levels at all. I’ve barely scratched the surface as far as the silliness of some of the plot threads and there are a few dozen more characters I could pick apart too. I finished the book this morning and throughout the day have been revising my rating down as I realised just how little of the book I actually liked. Overall I found it superficial and pretentious, with only a few hints of the humour and adventurousness that I enjoyed about its predecessor.


NAKED CRUELTY is one of the books eligible for the 2011 Davitt Awards and is on the longlist for the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards


My rating: 2/5 stars
Publisher: Bolinda audio


ISBN: 9781407905778
Length: 11 hours 31 minutes (9 CDs)
Format: Audio (CD)
Source:borrowed from the library

5 thoughts on “Review NAKED CRUELTY by Colleen McCullough

  1. Thanks, Bernadette, one to miss for me I think. I did enjoy her earlier novels but I remember deciding to stop reading her as she'd “gone off” i my view. It was so long ago that I can't even remember the titles, except that I loved The Thorn Birds (first novel).

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  2. Thanks for interesting review. I am a huge fan of McCollough also, with the First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown two of my all time favs, but not so taken with her crime fiction. I found On,Off disappointing, even though I too like Delmonico as a character. I found the end of On,Off too similar to other novels of this ilk, such as Primal Fear, and Primal Fear is a far better novel.

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