Review: PROMISE by Tony Cavanaugh

promiseDarian Richards was once in charge of Victoria’s Homicide Squad. But after promising a mother her kidnapped daughter would return home only to have that prove untrue he resigns. Throws his gun in the sea and moves to Queensland. A year later someone starts killing young girls in the place Darian now calls home. After half a dozen have been taken, tortured and killed Darian decides he’s going to find said killer and stop him.

This is not my kind of crime fiction. It’s a very popular form of the genre. Indeed it’s what I think a lot of people think all crime fiction to be, but it’s not my personal cup of tea. That doesn’t make it bad or mean you shouldn’t read it (unless we happen to share a particular set of dislikes).

The first thing that makes this not my kind of crime fiction is that I found its protagonist an arrogant, insufferable bore. He’s a genius, the smartest male cop to have ever lived (in Dairan’s world all other male cops are dumb) (though all female cops are smart so he gets a point for not mixing misogyny in with his silly generalisations). He is the one who understands victims. He is so committed to them that never took a day off when he worked Homicide. He knows how to deal out justice better than any pesky old justice system. He is, naturally, a martial arts expert. His ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound is implied.

I know these kinds of super-hero characters  (he reminded me of Jack Reacher) are supposed to be a bit of fun but I find them boring. And in some ways not unrealistic enough. I know people who think they’re gods and everyone around them is a loser and I think they’re boring too.

Next up is the subject matter. I have had enough of serial killer novels, especially ones jammed full of the notion there is such a killer lurking in every neighbourhood. As if the relative few that really have existed are not frightening enough. Throw in chapters depicting endless and gruesome sadism and violence from the killer’s point of view, make the killer someone who also thinks he’s a genius then pit the two egos against each other and you’ve just about marked off the entire checklist of things I don’t like in my crime fiction.

That said the book is well-written and, unlike so many books published these days, not at all bloated. Cavanaugh can capture a scene’s essence with just a few words. Like when Darian lies to a group of victims’ family members and realises “They believed me – except for Juanita whose stare told me she knew bullshit a year away…” I love that line. In fact when it focuses on something other than the duelling egos of the killer and his hunter, the novel can be insightful.

It also has a really solid sense of place. There’s an unsettlingly credible picture of the Sunshine Coast as a serial killer’s wet dream (surely no parent who reads this will ever let their teenager daughter go to schoolies) (or…you know…out the front door) and more broadly the setting is Australian to its core, though it might not bring in the tourists. There’s even some dry humour and some potentially interesting minor characters.

I was looking for the kind of escapism offered by PROMISE on a particularly lazy summer day but I still wanted to be engaged by some aspect of the book. If not the story then the characters. Darian bloody Richards and his over-inflated ego matching wits with a barking mad serial killer didn’t do it for me but I’m fairly sure I’ll be in the minority of readers who react this way. PROMISE has the feel of a Lee Child or early James Patterson book and I know those are hugely popular. Most readers will undoubtedly not see Darian as a giant, boring ego and most readers probably haven’t read enough crime fiction to be well and truly fed up with seeing the world from the point of view of a madman. To all of you: enjoy.

As always other opinions are available and here are just two that differ fairly significantly from mine at Aust Crime Fiction and Bite the Book

Publisher: Hachette Australia [2011]
ISBN: 9780733628474
Length: 327 pages
Format: Paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

2 thoughts on “Review: PROMISE by Tony Cavanaugh

  1. Pingback: Books of the Month – January 2013 | Reactions to Reading

  2. Pingback: Rounding up Aussie crime fiction 2013 #1 | Fair Dinkum Crime

Comments are closed.