It seems kinda unusual to read a book about the FBI by an Australian author, though I’m not sure why. Canberra-based Jack Heath is best known for his young adult novels, though the blurb I read on the publisher’s site indicates Heath has had a myriad of careers and experiences.
In a note to readers, Heath talks about his interest in capital punishment – in those on death row and those employed to be there in the final moments… and its impact. I’m opposed to the death penalty (the good ol’ eye for an eye is so bloody subjective) but didn’t feel as if I was drawn into any ethical debate here and think Heath probably needed to go down a different route if that was his intention. That’s just an ‘aside’ however, but I hadn’t realised that was his inspiration until I read the author’s notes at the end of the book. For me, this is very much a character-driven book (my favourite kind) but with a few ethical twists thrown in when it comes to our anti-hero and lead character.
by Jack Heath
Series: Timothy Blake #1
Published by Allen & Unwin
on January 3rd 2018
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
A 14-year-old boy vanishes on his way home from school. His frantic mother receives a disturbing ransom call. It's only hours before the deadline, and the police have no leads.
Enter Timothy Blake, codename Hangman. Blake is a genius, known for solving impossible cases. He's also a sociopath - the FBI's last resort.
But this time Blake might have met his match. The kidnapper is more cunning and ruthless than anyone he's faced before. And Blake has been assigned a new partner, a woman linked to the past he's so desperate to forget.
Timothy Blake has a secret, one so dark he will do anything to keep it hidden.
And he also has a price. Every time he saves a life, he takes one…
I probably should warn readers that this book isn’t for the faint-hearted. We’re told in the blurb that Timothy Blake is not a warm and fuzzy type of guy. That he’s a guy the FBI calls on at their own peril and to the disdain of many involved…. but he gets stuff done.
The anti-hero is not new, we’ve had the likes of Dexter (in books and on TV); and Candice Fox’s Eden Archer series are perfect examples. It takes a while however, for Heath to actually share the intricacies of Blake’s… (ahem) habits, and it’s done with such great aplomb and abruptness that I was compelled to share [ie. shriek in shock] the news (well, the paragraph which reveals his predilections) with my mother who was watching TV in the next room (as it was a night I was spending at her place, so I was reading in bed rather than in the bath, as is my favoured position!).
So… Blake’s habits may not be palatable. On top of this he doesn’t really care if he’s liked, or what people think of him. Well, most people. He’s finding himself drawn to his new partner on the case Reese Thistle, but convinced he’d be a risk if he got close to anyone and won’t chance it with her.
Initially it seems Blake’s predilections are a result of fate, life in the foster care system and on the street. Not just the usual fucked up childhood, but actual necessity. Kinda. However Heath later drops another bombshell and we learn there’s more to the backstory of Blake’s tendencies than expected.
Interestingly, writing this review, Blake (as the lead character) is more in the forefront of my mind than the kidnapping itself. In fact, my notes are more about Blake than the case. He’s living on the edge and far FAR from a law-abiding citizen. He makes a meagre living from solving puzzles and (in a nod to Blake’s day-job) Heath actually prefaces each chapter with a riddle of sorts. Some I was able to work out, others I wasn’t.
(As an aside, I read an early copy of this book and think it would be great for the lovers-of-closure out there if the riddles’ answers were actually included at the end, though if I was less lazy I’d google them! Update: here are the answers!)
I can’t help but think this would be a great book club book – it would certainly generate some discussion about right, wrong, justice, morality and so forth. Does the ends justify the means? And I wonder is it okay to accept someone’s deviant / f*cked up behaviour cos you don’t think they’re actually ‘evil’ in the true sense of the word?
Obviously, although I shouldn’t, I liked Blake and in his note for readers Heath suggests he wanted us to fear Blake but also care about his fate. And Heath certainly succeeds in making him very human and engaging. Blake’s self-effacing, witty and smart. A bit Sherlock-like with some of the stuff he notices and analysis he offers. There are lines I’d love to share with you but it would give too much away about his behaviour.
I guessed part of the plot (around the kidnapping) but was a little confused about the supposition / discovery made at one point about family relations, because when we later learn whodunnit (which I didn’t guess and I think it’s a pretty long bow to draw) I was left a little uncertain about the earlier clues (and relationships), which dropped this back from a 4 to 3.5 star read for me.
This book ends in such a way that we can probably expect more in the series, which I’m certainly looking forward to, though with a few changes ahead for Blake.
Hangman by Jack Heath will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in early January 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.