Monday 2 November 2009

Don't Look Back - Scott Frost

For some reason - probably force of habit - I assumed right from the start that Detective Alex Delillo was a man, probably a whisky-drinking, chain-smoking, ruthless, world-weary male cop who has seen too many victims to come through unscathed. So when Alex locks eyes - the deep blue eyes - of a male colleague and they share a look, I thought to myself OK, a gay cop, that's a different angle, very Brokeback Mountain. A few pages on, when a lightbulb came on over my head and I suddenly realised Alex Delillo was a woman, I had to go back to the beginning and start all over again so that I could get the wrong images out of my head and start afresh in trying to figure out who Alex really is !

But apart from this false start, the fact that this is the fourth book in the Alex Delillo series and that I haven't read any of the other three posed absolutely no problem or hindrance to my enjoyment. There are a few references to past events that made me curious to find out more about her past, but as a stand-alone novel, it's a great read in itself.

The basic plot isn't particularly original - it's a nerve-wracking, fast-paced race against time to outwit a serial killer - but the difference here is that Scott Frost isn't scared of taking on provocative, controversial subjects. There really are no taboos - we have sexual abuse in the Catholic church, the Church paying off victims to keep their silence, corruption in the police force and city hall, ruthless factions and assassins in the Vatican ... he's certainly not scared of tackling delicate issues head on.

For me, the focal point of a good crime novel is always the killer and this one is certainly a good one - by which I actually mean a really bad one ! His murders are intricately planned to the very last detail, following a warped logic and showing an almost artistic quality. His childhood explains his psychosis, so even if we can't condone his actions, we do understand them and feel something approaching sympathy for him - he's almost as much a victim as his own victims.

The serial killer takes on the name of the Spanish artist Goya and bases his murders around some of his darker paintings. Intrigued, and totally clueless about the history of art, I googled Goya and was chilled to see how accurately his paintings have been adapted to murder scenes in the novel. It goes to show just how much research Scott Frost has put into writing this book.

All of the characters, be they cops, priests or ruthless killers, have complicated pasts and complex personalities, which makes it difficult to guess who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. I would have liked to have seen these aspects developed more fully but I assume some of that is done in the three previous installments.

It's a tense, exciting read, right to the very end - even if the final scenes did seem a bit too neat and tidy with everything playing out as planned without a hitch. This is one of those books that I could easily imagine being made into a Hollywood blockbuster, so I was hardly surprised to discover that Scott Frost is a former screenwriter whose credits include Twin Peaks and The X-Files.

star rating : 4/5

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Headline (12 Nov 2009)
ISBN-10: 0755370015
ISBN-13: 978-0755370016

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