Zaffre | 2019 (19 September) | 64p | Review copy | Buy the book
Charlie Priest has been appointed supervising solicitor in a most curious case. Professor Norman Owen has been ordered by the High Court to return an ancient Biblical text, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to the elusive Elisha Capindale, a collector of Christian antiquities. Priest is supposed to supervisor Owen’s surrender of the text but the Professor sits Charlie Priest down and tells him an incredible story, one that goes back beyond Christianity to the Old Testament and the origins of man. This ancient text, he argues, holds the key to a past that some people would kill to conceal. Priest decides to win more time for the Professor and takes the document into his own custody, an action that will have deadly consequences.
Meanwhile, Priest’s close friend DCI Tiff Rowlinson is investigating the gruesome murder of an award-winning photographer. By the side of the body can be found salt and symbols, painted in the dead woman’s blood. More murders follow and Tiff must work with Priest to hunt down a serial killer whose motivation seems to be nothing like those of any killer they’ve come across before. And Priest should know – or rather his brother Will should, one of the most infamous serial killers of the century.
False Prophet is the third novel in James Hazel’s excellent and very chilling Charlie Priest series but it stands alone well. These are disturbing books, often gruesome, and they’re riveting, largely because of the character of Priest himself and also for his assistant, Georgie Someday. I’m a big fan of Priest’s techie expert, Solly, but Solly plays less of a role here than he did in the first novel. He remains, though, a scene stealer. Priest is an intriguing man. He has a dissociative order, which pops up at the most inconvenient times, and keeps him emotionally separate from the world around him, and from himself, despite his conscious efforts to bridge the gap. Georgie helps. She is utterly endearing while also being vulnerable and extraordinarily brave and resilient.
The good news is that Priest’s brother plays an important role in False Prophet. He’s an extraordinary individual – half monster, half man. His relationship with Priest and with their sister is explored in the novel and I think is quite possibly what I enjoyed the most. This is so well done. James Hazel is a master at manipulating our opinions as he immerses us in a tale populated by charismatic and dangerous people.
Then there’s the mystery itself, which is bloody and horrifying. You do need to suspend your powers of disbelief but what matters here is what the killer believes, rather than what the manuscript says. Perhaps! Strangely, this is the second novel in just one week that I’ve read on the same biblical subject (the other being the action thriller The Resurrection Key by Andy McDermott)! I did find the mystery more satisfying than I did the one in The Ash Doll, the previous novel, and it reminded me much more of the power and suspense of the first, The Mayfly.
In False Prophet, the characters have really come into their own. Priest and Someday are now very well established. We’ve learned a little bit more about them and, as a result, I feel very loyal to both of them. Priest is a fantastic creation, who thinks a little differently and can act completely unexpectedly. The atmosphere is dark and frightening – there is a distinct horror feel to this crime novel at times. Dark it might be but it’s certainly entertaining and I most definitely look forward to more.