The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson has described by many as featuring a murderer to rival everyone’s favourite 1990s serial killer and general-bad-guy Hannibal Lecter.
“Oh, so it’ll be gruesome,” I thought and prepared myself. I don’t like (read or watch ) horror and was worried it might border on that genre, but it was fine. Grisly on occasions and Matheson isn’t shy about going into detail about severed body parts and the like, but I’m not very visual so it wasn’t something that would give me nightmares.
The Jigsaw Man
by Nadine Matheson
Published by HQ Fiction
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9780008359393, 9780008458669
When body parts are found on the banks of the River Thames in Deptford, DI Anjelica Henley is tasked with finding the killer. Eerie echoes of previous crimes lead Henley to question Peter Olivier, aka The Jigsaw Killer, who is currently serving a life sentence for a series of horrific murders.
When a severed head is delivered to Henley's home, she realises that the copycat is taking a personal interest in her and that the victims have not been chosen at random.
To catch the killer, Henley must confront her own demons - and when Olivier escapes from prison - she finds herself up against not one serial killer, but two.
The strength of this book for me was its characters. Henley is rather flawed. She and her husband’s relationship isn’t great and he’s annoyed by the amount of time she spends at work rather than with him and their baby. We’re offered background and I wondered if perhaps there was an earlier book about her capture of Olivier because there’s casual reference to him, her injuries and what-came-after before we’re given more detail.
There’s also some history between Henley and her boss.
Something I liked about this book is that I got through a fair bit of the book before learning Henley was black. It didn’t matter and I realised I appreciated that it hadn’t been a ‘thing’. It didn’t define her though obviously she’s dealt with racist attitudes overcome barriers in her career. As I mentioned in the intro, I’m not very visual so I rarely if ever picture characters. And sometimes when they’re described I’m disappointed by them for completely irrational reasons. All of that aside, for me it was a reminder that we shouldn’t make assumptions about characters. Or rather, when we do, it’s impacted by our experiences, values etc…
We’re also introduced to a trainee detective Salim Ramouter who’s been inspired by the work of the Serial Crime Unit and though experienced himself, is training with them. Matheson again offers texture to Ramouter’s presence by referencing his wife with early onset dementia and his son.
Peter Olivier is a charismatic killer. The murders he committed that resulted in him being jailed sound like that of a psychopath (ie. the dismemberment) and he seems to be incapable of empathy (another sure sign) but in reality he had motive for his original kills. I’m not suggesting it’s justified of course but they were kinda targeted and a form of payback.
Henley and her colleagues are unsure whether Olivier’s pulling someone’s strings here (and it’s obvious he has his admirers and has charmed a serial killer-lover or two from his jail cell); or whether they have a copycat who’s somehow privy to details of Olivier’s murders that weren’t made public.
And which of those it is will—of course—influence how he acts once he’s escaped.
The character development ensured the unfolding plot felt very real. But I felt sometimes the backstories were so detailed they often included information that may, or may not, be relevant. Names and events were casually dropped into the narrative and I kept wondering if I’d missed something. Matheson references a girl who disappeared when Henley was young, a murderous nurse whose case led to the establishment the SCU and the former boss who suicided and left his team to deal with the aftermath.
Similarly we’re given background into the lives of the victims, some of which I’m not necessarily sure we need if it doesn’t contribute to how or why they became a victim.
I suspect Matheson has set this up for more in the series. Perhaps some of my unanswered questions will be resolved then.
Finally, Matheson’s familiarity with the justice system (she’s a criminal solicitor) is evident in the confident way she handles police procedures and courtroom-related scenes, making this an enjoyable debut novel.
The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson was published in Australia by HQ Fiction (Harper Collins) and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.