The Slaughter Man | Tony Parsons | 2015 | Century | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
It’s New Years Eve but for one family it’s not time to celebrate, it’s time to die. DC Max Wolfe and his team find the horrific remains of a family – mother, father, son, daughter – brutally slain within their expensive home in a North London exclusive gated community. But the youngest child, a boy little more than a toddler, is missing, presumed kidnapped. The Wood family would seem to have had it all – happiness, looks, wealth – but for one killer this was more than enough reason to slaughter them like cattle, his weapon a stun gun.
Wolfe pays a visit to Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, following a hunch, and finds among its grim displays details of similar murders – The Slaughter Man wiped out the men of a family thirty years before using the same type of weapon. But he has done his time and is now back with his own community of travellers, who live in a camp nearby. They do not react well when the police come calling.
The Slaughter Man is not an easy book to put down. Its opening, horrifying chapter sets up a pace that does not stop until the end. Its mystery is an intriguing one. The Wood family appears perfect but, as one might expect, appearances are one thing and reality is another. Tony Parsons paints a vivid picture of rich and woody North London but he also takes us to other parts of the city, the volatile travellers camp, and the lethal underworld of vice and crime, as well as the places where all worlds meet. It’s a twisty journey and the conclusion is both thrilling and a satisfying surprise.
Max Wolfe is an interesting character and he is one of the biggest draws of this series. He’s a single dad, not yet over the pain of his ex-wife beginning a new life and family, with a lovely daughter, Scout, and a faithful dog, Stan. The happiness of this threesome is a welcome relief through the dark parts of the novel (of which there are many). I particularly enjoyed the scenes when they go about Smithfields on their daily walk. As a single father, Max relies on friends for help and these loving characters are a stark contrast to plenty of other people we meet through the course of the investigation.
I had a couple of minor gripes with the novel but they are small and had no impact on my enjoyment of the book, which was considerable. I had to keep double checking that Wolfe is just a Detective Constable. He seems to act with much more authority than that, listened to by his superiors and respected. He also has a habit of rushing into dangerous hotspots with no backup, even if that backup is just a few minutes away. As a result, people get hurt. But counteracting that is Wolfe’s likeable nature and his conviction. He wants a better world for his beloved daughter and, if necessary, he’ll die making it. I was intrigued by other members of Wolfe’s team and I hope we learn more about them in future books.
The Slaughter Man is well-written, intense and dark crime fiction with a strong sense of place and a great plot. I look forward enormously to following Max Wolfe through his career – let’s hope he survives it!