Headcase by Jack Heath is the fourth in the series featuring cannibalistic problem solver Timothy Blake. Annoyingly my review of this book’s predecessor, published in 2020, mentions it ending with a bit of a twist. Alas I shared no spoilers and as I was super keen to read this, I was too impatient to go back and skim Hideout to jog my memory.
It didn’t actually matter however. I’m assuming perhaps that the love of Blake’s life, FBI agent Reese Thistle found out about his flesh-eating predilections and the pair broke up, as here he’s pining for her while working with new partner Zara on a covert CIA operation in the US.
by Jack Heath
Series: Timothy Blake #4
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction
A Chinese astronaut is found dead in a NASA training environment in Houston, Texas. No one can explain how he got there. Amid fears of a diplomatic catastrophe, the CIA dispatches Timothy 'Hangman' Blake to investigate, because a convicted kidnapper works in the facility - someone Blake put away a long time ago.
Blake is deeply insane, afflicted by terrible urges he can barely control - but he's also brilliant. Zara, his beautiful and deadly CIA handler, suspects a secret Chinese spacecraft is surveilling the United States, but Blake can see something much more sinister is going on. Something connected to the kidnapping seven years ago, to the technologies being developed at NASA, and to the serial killer known as the Texas Reaper.
I was initially worried that this was going to be focussed on spies and espionage because, though I went through a love of that genre (Ludlam, Le Carre, Deighton and David Morrell) in the 1990s, I’m not overly keen now. However, though there is an underlying plot around China and its Ministry of State Security potentially peaking at what US citizen are up to, this is more of a whodunnit – so right up my crime fiction genre-loving alley.
We jump about in time a bit here. When the book opens Blake is in a mental health facility and I wondered if that’s how book three ended. However, his therapy sessions take him back in time to a couple of weeks prior when something – we don’t initially know what – led him to be admitted. (Other than his flesh-eating ways of course.)
Ostensibly this is about the death of what’s assumed to be a Chinese astronaut on a NASA facility. But of course all is not what it seems and Heath throws in multiple red herrings and misleading threads. Which includes the kidnapping case Blake solved years before.
I was interested in the relationship between Zara and Blake. He comments often on her beauty, but also on her danger. And later… wonders if he thinks he’s worthy of her (which is unusual for him) because of her own somewhat twisted psyche.
In the background here the FBI are on the trail of a serial killer, one who’s strangling unlikely and seemingly unrelated victims. Zara’s trying to keep Blake focussed on the dead astronaut case, however he finds himself distracted when he discovers the love of his life (Thistle) is working the strangling case… and even more so when it seems he becomes a suspect in the deaths.
I very much enjoyed this and Heath does a wonderful job at weaving layers of complexity through this book. He leaps about in time, dropping in a number of threads. I often get antsy if there are multiple cases (coincidentally converging at the end), but here they fit and are obviously connected through Blake.
I was fascinated by Blake’s time as an inpatient and we’re taken down several different paths here… unsure what to believe. And – though cynical about therapy and its ability to change his behaviour or get to the root of his compulsion – Blake finds himself pondering normality. What ifs…
I love that Heath is able to take this series in different directions while keeping the momentum of Blake’s story. And even though Blake’s own behaviour and history are unusual, Heath’s able to give something to readers that’s believable and very real.
Headcase by Jack Heath was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.