Thursday, 26 July 2007

‘Dying Words’ - Shaun Hutson (Orbit Books)

I think Shaun Hutson could write a very good crime novel (and he has, take a look at ‘Exit Wounds’). He has also proved that he can corner the market in ‘pulp terror’ with books like ‘Assassin’, ‘Slugs’ and ‘Breeding Ground’. It’s when he makes the two genres cross over that the results can be a little hit and miss. This is one of those books.
Detective Inspector David Birch is investigating a series of killings that revolve around the classic ‘locked room’ scenario. This time however, there really was no way the killer could have entered or left the room… or was there? Books by horror author John Paxton and biographer Megan Hunter keep turning up at the scene of the crimes. Is there a connection? There is and the connection that Birch finds will threaten his very sanity…
Right from the very first page, Hutson shifts into top gear and the plot rattles along at break neck speed with a frantic car chase through the streets of London. I was hooked until the climactic scene on the London Underground, and that was just the first couple of chapters! Great stuff. Things then slow down with the introduction of the murders that form the basis of the book. Hutson delivers a lesson in how to write gripping detective fiction that builds up the tension with each page. The reader gets a real sense of the conflict between Birch’s determination to crack the case and his mounting unease at the circumstances surrounding each crime. The revealing of the main plot device (how the crimes are committed) is deftly done over several chapters but it is at this point that things started to come apart for me. While the climactic battle is handled in true ‘Hutson style’ (think buckets of gore and bullets); I felt that Hutson glossed over a couple of important points in getting there, namely ‘how do you convince an elite police firearms unit to follow you into battle against a supernatural killer’… Is it something they do all the time? Were they sceptical but followed orders anyway? It seemed really important to me that this was dealt with in a manner that fitted the ‘crime’ and ‘horror’ elements together in a plausible way and I don’t think that Hutson really addressed the issue. That section of the book felt clunky as a result.
If you’re a Hutson fan then I think you’ll enjoy this. I enjoyed it but was looking for elements in the writing that just weren’t there on this occasion.

Six and a Half out of Ten

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