Simon & Schuster | 2017 (Pb 27 July) | 496p | Review copy | Buy the book
Tanya Kaitlin’s quiet night in is interrupted by a video call from her best friend Karen Ward. At first, Tanya can see nothing but Karen’s eyes but, as the camera pulls backwards, Tanya can hardly believe the scene before her. Karen is gagged and bound in a chair. A distorted voice tells Tanya that if she looks away, if she calls the police, or can’t answer two simple questions correctly, then Karen will die and the death will not be an easy one. Try as she might, Tanya is unable to answer the second question. What happens as a result is something that Tanya will have to live with for the rest of her life. It’s Los Angeles Detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia who have to pick up the pieces of that call. But this is just the first time. Soon there is a call to another person who has to answer two questions to prevent their loved one being slaughtered in front of their eyes. And then there’s another.
Robert Hunter isn’t your normal detective. Quite apart from the fact that he seems relatively settled and content in his private life, he is also extraordinarily gifted intellectually, particularly in psychology and his observation skills are second to none. Robert Hunter watches and he listens and he waits for that feeling that tells him that his hunch is true. Carlos Garcia takes a back seat by comparison but his own instincts are finely honed and his influence on Hunter is strong. It’s soon clear that they are faced with a killer who is as careful and clever as he is sadistic and cruel. But not everything is going his way – perhaps he should have taken more care with his choice of victim.
The Caller is the first novel by Chris Carter that I’ve read. I’m not a big reader of American serial killer fiction but The Caller jolted me awake. I picked it up one day and when I put it down again I was over 400 pages in. If it hadn’t have been so late I would have finished it there and then but I wanted to save the last fifty pages for when I was wide awake and could savour every word. I loved every single page and I was utterly engrossed in it.
The murders are undoubtedly ingeniously gruesome and they did make me hold my breath but, even though I’m a squeamish reader, I could not turn these pages fast enough. This is a novel that pushes on at an incredible pace. And I really enjoyed Hunter. He’s my kind of detective. He’s calm and slightly aloof but strong and dedicated. He’s committed to pursuing LA’s most violent criminals but he also takes the time to read in a library at night. He doesn’t seek out romance but occasionally it can find him but not much is made of it. The emphasis throughout is on the relationship between victim, murderer and detective.
The Caller has such a great story and it’s put together brilliantly. The focus moves back and forth from Hunter to victim and this drives on the urgency while also making the reader feel emotionally invested in what happens and more than a little shocked by what unfolds before us. Without doubt this was one of the most fun reading experiences I’ve had this year. Thrilling, exciting, horrifying, backed up by fascinating characters, both good and evil – perfect!