Harper Collins, out now
A serial killer who can disappear at will; a victim determined to track him down – but time is of the essence.
Lauren Beukes’ serial killer story with a difference has quite rightly attracted many plaudits over the past few weeks (as well as the announcement of a film version). It’s got an incredibly clever central conceit: what if someone used time travel to commit murders? The idea of a murderer escaping in a time machine was seen in Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time; an early BBC Doctor Who novel suggested that the Doctor could have been Jack the Ripper. But this takes the idea to a whole new level, with the addition of anachronistic elements and a circularity that forces events.
The story is split between scenes about the serial killer in various time zones, and the investigation by someone who managed to get away. There’s a brutality to the former that is almost casual, which means that you can never forget what’s in the background for the victim – she has somehow (and we do eventually learn how) survived an attack by this seeming force of nature. Even when she’s at her most irritating, that softens the reader towards her.
Beukes’ earlier novels had a certain roughness around the edges that felt part of their world-building. This is ironically a more down to earth story, filled with neat moments: the killer takes time out to come back to the Sears Building just to ride in the elevator; or returns to the scene of a crime to provide his own alibi. The final confrontation is satisfying, and the loose ends tied up – to an extent – providing a strong finale for an excellent read.
Verdict: If you like your serial killer stories to surprise you, then you’ll enjoy this. Recommended. 9/10