Reviewed by Clodagh Phelan
Twelve-year-old Barney Roberts is obsessed with a series of murders.
He knows the victims are all boys, just like him.
He knows the bodies were found on river banks.
And he's sure the killer will strike again soon.
But there's something else, a secret he'd rather not know, a secret he is too scared to share . . .
And who would believe a twelve-year-old boy anyway?
Clever. Creepy. Compelling.
‘They say it’s like slicing through warm butter, when you cut into young flesh’. Thus it begins, with the killer talking to a psychiatrist. And already there’s sleight of hand. Already the misdirection has begun. It’s there in that sentence but it is so subtle as to be virtually unnoticeable. I only spotted it afterwards, when I had read the full story. This is how it begins and it continues as tension mounts and the plot twists and turns and we are led into one blind alley after another.
Like this, for ever tells the story of Barney, a twelve-year-old boy who lives alone with his Dad; his mother left when he was little. Barney’s chief preoccupation is with finding her and he sets about it intelligently and systematically. Which comes as no surprise as we soon observe that, as well as being incredibly observant and intuitive, he also suffers, at least to some degree, from OCD. His other concern is finding who is killing young boys of his age and leaving them on the banks of the Thames.
This is a clever book. It’s rich in detail and in observation. It’s creepy. It’s really, really hard to put down. There’s a lot of knowledge in here – about the River Thames, and police procedure among other things – but the knowledge is, for the most part, unobtrusive. There are some clunky bits. Occasionally the research is a tiny bit too obvious. There are some formulaic descriptions, mostly of police officers, the sort of two-dimensional writing you’d expect in a run of the mill police procedural but not a book of this quality. And please, spare us the buttoned up female detective hiding behind a mask.
All that is to carp a bit so let’s get on with the good stuff. Of which there is abundance. Barney is wonderfully drawn, as indeed are the other children. In fact among the joys of this book are the very believable actions and interactions between the different characters– notably between the children themselves and between the various police officers. Lacey is a bit of an oddball and I didn’t find her entirely plausible. However, much of her behaviour has its roots in the earlier books. Reference is made to these throughout with no attempt made to explain them. Strangely this is not irritating nor does it hold up the action and I put this down to the writer’s skill. I found myself wanting to know what had happened but only incidentally. I was far too keen in finding out what happened in this book.
I can’t go into more detail about the plot and the murders without spoiling it for others. Suffice to say that the MO is unusual as is the denouement. All praise to the author for creating such an original story. Praise too for the accurate psychological insights and for the very novel ways these are used to misdirect and obscure. Nearly every character comes under the spotlight. Just when you think you’ve got somewhere, off you go in another direction. The clues are all there but it’s hard to keep up, which keep you turning the pages.
The settings are authentic. Not just the physical settings – London, the Thames, the urban landscape but also the incorporation of such things as mobile phones and Facebook into the plot. The behaviour of crowds, the media circus these are also deftly woven in, making the plot more relevant, realistic and plausible. As I said earlier, this is a very clever book and I am thrilled to have discovered this writer; now I have all the other books to look forward too. Mind you, this will be at the expense of my workload, my chores and everything else I’m suppose to be doing because, while life forced me to stop reading from time to time, I was always dying to get back to it. And I’ve no doubt I’ll feel the same about her other books.
I'd like to thank Clodagh for this fab review and Alison at Transworld Books for sending it to us to review.