Sunday 14 February 2010

Random - Craig Robertson

At times, I actually found this a really uncomfortable book to read. I love crime fiction and have read many tales of blood-thirsty, psychotic serial killers that have had my eyes glued to the page. This is the first time in all my years of reading that something I have read (I'm talking fiction) has left me feeling actually physically sick and made me look away from the page. The problem is, unlike when you're watching a gory bit on a TV programme, you can't hide behind a cushion for a few minutes and tell your other half to let you know when you can look at the screen again ! Your only option is to skip a few lines and jump back in, hoping that the sickeningly gory bit is over. (And if you're wondering, the bit that made my stomach churn was the bit involving a screwdriver and somebody's eyes.)

I can't deny that the basic plotline is clever - a serial killer who hides his real intended victim in amongst a load of random killings to cover his tracks. I can also understand and, dare I say it, empathise with the killer's motivations for seeking revenge on his intended victim (I won't tell you what that motivation is, I'll let you find out for yourselves). But the killer seems so enthusiastic and almost gleeful in his complicated, playful methods of selecting random victims that you can't help thinking that these secondary murders become more than a means to an end. OK, he has to make the killings look realistically violent for the police and the public at large to believe it's a serial killer - but he seems to take real pleasure in the thrill of the chase and uses some horrific methods in his killings.

So can we get write him off as a sick, sadistic psycopath ? Well, we could - but surely all the scenes of him with his wife, particularly at the end, are supposed to make us feel some degree of sympathy for him ? Is he not in some ways a victim himself ? Is he justified, as he seems to believe, to be seeking vengeance ? If so, it's a shame he remains anonymous. It would be easier to feel sympathy for someone if we at least knew his name. So we're stuck in a nowhere man's land, midway between condemning and condoning his actions, and as a reader, that's not really a great place to be.

The press angle is fascinating, particularly when you read that the author is a top journalist. His biography on Amazon says "During his 20-year career with the Sunday Post in Glasgow, Craig Robertson has interviewed three recent Prime Ministers; attended major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann; been pilloried on breakfast television, beaten Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, been among the first to interview Susan Boyle, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India." He presumably knows what he's talking about then, when he talks about some journalists tweaking the truth and presenting facts in whichever convenient light they choose ! It certainly explains why the newspaper articles seem so authentic.

The end of the book came as a surprise to me but, with hindsight, is probably the best ending it could have had. There is some kind of rough justice there for most people involved in the book, except maybe the wife.

If you like Tarantino-esque tales of gangland killings, violent hardnuts and people's sad little lives spiralling out of control, you'll probably enjoy reading this. It's dark and depressing, violent and disturbing but does have some nice little unexpected twists tucked away to keep us reading to the end. Not one of my favourite reads this year but I don't regret spending time reading it.

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £12.99

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (1 April 2010)
ISBN-10: 1847377297
ISBN-13: 978-1847377296

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