Friday January 25, 2013
Book review: Deity
Review By TERENCE TOH
Series that feature the same protagonist can run out of steam pretty quickly but this book, the third, is still a very engaging read.
Author: Steven Dunne
Publisher: Headline, 533 pages
WHAT’S worse than having a sinister psychopath going about his business in your town? Try having two.
It is a rough time for the Derbyshire police force in Britain. A vagrant’s body has been found in the River Derwent, presumed drowned until an autopsy reveals that his lungs have been removed. And another vagrant’s corpse is soon discovered in a gravel pit, all his internal organs removed except for his heart.
If that’s not complex enough, four Derby College students are discovered missing. Footage on a mysterious website known as “Deity” shows that they had been planning to ritually kill themselves: but why, when they have so much to live for? And what does an old unsolved case involving a hanged boy have to do with everything?
Fortunately, Inspector Damen Brook is on the case, stopping at nothing to track down the perpetrators and he soon discovers that the vagrant murders and the missing students may be more connected than everyone had thought. And if he does not stop the murderer(s), more innocent lives, including his only daughter’s, may be in grave danger....
Deity is a brilliant read, opening with not one but two murders and not slowing down from there. The novel maintains a dark atmosphere throughout, which is fortunately balanced by well-placed moments of character humour. Certain parts are somewhat morbid: scenes involving corpses being prepared come immediately to mind.
Deity is British author and part-time teacher Steven Dunne’s third Inspector Damen Brook novel, after The Disciple and The Reaper. Despite being a third in a series, it is perfectly possible to enjoy Deity without having read any of Dunne’s prior novels.
One of Deity’s strongest points is its captivating characters. Inspector Brook is delightful to read about, a gruff, honest man who is unfortunately unable to make social connections with his fellow officers. Damaged from some of the things he’s seen on the job, he struggles to do the right thing, including bonding with his estranged daughter Terri, who has problems of her own. Indeed, Dunne accomplishes the rare feat of making his novel’s hero just as interesting as his villain, a difficult task in crime fiction.
Also written well are the students of Derby College who slowly become wrapped up in the Deity website’s twisted plans. Particularly memorable is the beautiful yet tormented Adele Watson, a talented poet subject to unwanted affection both from her lecturer and father. A minor nitpick, however: the chapters involving them feature heavy use of slang, not always appropriately, which can be painful to read at times.
Deity is a strangely textured novel, raising themes of mortality, self-destruction, and rebellion, as well as fame and infamy. Another of the novel’s major themes is the impact of the media and popular culture on youth and society, as explored through the reality TV-like Deity broadcasts and heavy reference to the 1975 Australian film based on a real-life event, Picnic At Hanging Rock, which slowly becomes an obsession for the students.
Dunne’s novel forces its characters (and readers) to ask themselves a major question: is it better to die with a bang, when you are adored and at your peak, or slip away with a whimper, alone and forgotten?
Deity is packed with twists and turns, many of them executed very well. The identity of the Deity killer, once revealed, is a genuine shock and discovering how two seemingly unrelated crimes are connected is certainly engrossing. Dunne is also a master of foreshadowing, sprinkling his novel with tiny, almost inconsequential details that later become crucial to the plot.
The novel also wins points for originality: how many other crime novels can claim to have a climax centred on both popular film AND Egyptian mythology?
Towards the end, however, the twists admittedly go a little overboard: one of them, pertaining to a death, comes across as contrived and will definitely strain the suspension of belief. While it is always fun to read about the schemes of a masterful planner coming to fruition, there is a fine line between “genius” and “crackpot” and one scheme violates this line so badly one is tempted to add it to the novel’s body count.
One particularly unusual thing about this crime novel is its very strong sense of continuity. Unfinished threads from previous books pop up in Deity, and not all loose ends are tied up: Dunne seems to be reserving a few character’s final fates for a sequel.
Don’t groan about authors simply out to make money with sequels – given Deity’s terrific atmosphere and compelling characters, it is a virtual certainty that sequels will be welcomed. After all, Dunne’s novel is a very engaging read, a well-written serial killer thriller that is almost impossible to put down. Crime fiction lovers, particularly fans of Mark Billingham, will be delighted and newcomers to the genre will be entertained.
Here’s to Inspector Damen Brook’s next case. We can’t wait!