For me, Michael Robotham's thrillers remain essential reading that demand some booking of 'time out' from normal life. And so it came to pass that his latest, his fourth novel in this series, Shatter did exactly that. I could have read this in one sitting, but one or two or more sittings had to suffice - due to some essential house moving - it all had to be done, including the reading of this novel.
Within a troupe of characters, Robotham kicks and slides the focus for his main protagonist like legs in an Argentine tango. This, in part, provides the beauty of the series as you never know what's coming next. Now, with book four, we return to book one: psychologist Joe O'Loughlin is the protagonist, but still with room for Vincent Ruiz (now retired).
In a nutshell: Joe and his family have left London and decamped to the West Country, in a village just outside Bath. He's lecturing at the university when the police arrive requesting assistance with potential suicide on Clifton Suspension Bridge. His colleague Bruno declines, so Joe volunteers and there he finds a woman, naked except for a pair of red Jimmy Choos on her feet. She has the word "slut" written on her abdomen and she's talking into her mobile phone. Before she jumps, she turns to Joe and whispers "You don't understand". Later, the woman's teenage daughter turns up at Joe's front door absolutely adamant that her mother would never have committed suicide and never jumped. She had been afraid of heights...
Robotham has created a very evil character in this novel and some of the story is told from his point of view which adds to the tension. What is his motive? How and why does his motivation change? Just how far will he go?
Joe has many pressures around him: settling in to a new area and a new job and some concerns about his wife's business trips.
As usual, the writing is as nippy as a supermini, lean and direct. Here's an example involving a neighbour:
'The rain has eased to a drizzle. The world is wet enough. Holding a jacket over my head I open the back gate and head up the footpath. Mrs Nutall is unblocking a drain in her garden. She's wearing her hair in curlers and her feet in Wellingtons.
"Good morning," I say.
"Rain might be clearing."
"Fuck off and die."
According to Hector, the publican at the Fox & Badger, Mrs Nuttall has nothing against me personally. Apparently, a previous owner of the cottage promised to marry her but ran off instead with the postmaster's wife. That was forty-five years ago and Mrs Nuttall hasn't forgiven or forgotten. Whoever owns the cottage owns the blame.'
As you can see, there is also some gentle humour in the novel. Robotham has created some wonderfully warm scenes of family life and managed to make teenagers seem quite human.
Whilst overall, I found this novel hard to put down and quite enjoyable, I don't think it's the best in series. I finished it feeling that my sense of credibility had been well and truly tested, as if I'd been given a colander having wanted a bowl. If you can overlook the things the pedant in me can't ignore, then you'll enjoy it even more.