The Murder Man by Tony Parsons is a debut thriller, introducing newly-minted homicide detective Max Wolfe, whose first case will involve murdered members of London society, all connected to an exclusive boarding school (available October 7, 2014).
After a heroic turn on the street, Max Wolfe is promoted to Detective in the Homicide division of London’s West End and he’s just pulled his first case: the brutal slaying business man Hugo Buck.
Shortly after, a homeless man is killed in the exact manner of Buck—both victims found with their throats practically ripped out. There seems to be no connection between the murders except for money. Both men were born with it.
As news of the killings spread, Bob the Butcher, an anonymous Internet personality, claims that he is responsible for the murders. Quoting Robert Oppenheimer and claiming to be the “destroyer of worlds,” the Butcher manages to insert himself squarely into the case. The only problem is, Wolfe doesn’t think Bob the Butcher is the killer. While Wolfe hunts for evidence and tries to protect the next targets, he becomes a target himself.
The Murder Man is journalist and author Tony Parsons’ debut crime thriller featuring Detective Max Wolfe. In this fast paced, well-researched introduction to Wolfe, Parsons creates a lot of twists and turns. And a pretty gruesome death toll.
Max Wolfe is a very detail-oriented character who catches a lot of things that others miss or gloss over. This trait is presented very clearly in our first introduction to Wolfe—as the police hunt down a potential terrorist. When Wolfe, as the primary man who can identify the suspect, goes against his superior’s orders and takes the terrorist down singlehandedly, it’s because he trusts his perceptions.
He was wearing that red backpack when he wheeled out the 440 litres of hair bleach to the cash desk. Wearing it when he counted out the £550 in fifty-pound notes. Wearing it when he unloaded his van at the lock-up garage where we had put our cameras.
You couldn’t miss that red backpack. It looked like the kind of bag you would use to climb Everest. Big and bright – safety red, they called that colour.
But his face was not the same. that threw me. It was meant to. the face had been pumped full of something. He was planning to go to his death with the face of another man. But I could see it now.
There was no doubt.
That kind of attention is important in the mangled mire that becomes his first homicide investigation. There’s an array of misinformation, lying witnesses, and a bevy of historical details and military tactics that come into play. Not the least of which is the man who is known as Bob the Butcher, who claims to be hunting down the rich and prosperous—like some kind of demented Robin Hood. The Butcher seems to be two kinds of criminals at once: one who can slit people’s throats like a military commando and one who knows how to set up multiple firewalls to protect himself from being found online.
Mallory said, ‘You’ve got the IP address for this Bob the Butcher?’
‘Not yet, sir,’ Gane replied. ‘He’s running his messages through some kind of anonymiser or anonymous proxy. Probably Tor or 12P. It’s an intermediary that’s meant to act as a wall between the user and the rest of the digital world. Most of the child pornography online is run through anonymisers. It’s the deep web, designed to bury an IP address. Bob’s been in touch again, if anybody’s interested.’
Gane hit a couple keys. On the big TV screen a social network site replaced the photograph of the seven boys. A black-and-white photograph the size of a postage stamp featuring a thin-faced man in a suit, tie and hat, an insolent cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth. A face from history.
Mallory read the message aloud: ‘I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. Behold the dark angel of the people, righteous avenger of the dispossessed. Bob the Butcher is coming. Kill all bankers. Kill all pigs. #killallpigs.'
Parsons has obviously done his homework when it comes to the research presented in The Murder Man. Not only on the cyber-world inhabited by Bob the Butcher and the forensic techs, but every aspect of this story seems to have been well-explored. For example, the reader gets to explore the forensic history of the Black Museum, which houses the history of the London police. A direct recreation of Jack the Rippers’ “From Hell” letter turns up. Several key elements in the story hinge on classic forensic detecting: fingerprints, wound patterns, and profiling all make an appearance. Parsons makes sure everything is clear to readers while not talking down to them. The author piles on the information and readers, like the investigators, must wade through it.
And there’s also the bureaucracy—again, well researched and detailed in accurate enough terms to make the reader want to reach through the page and force people to cooperate. What makes it interesting, to this American reader anyway, is that this is a quintessential British investigation. There’s new terminology, new methods of doing things. It’s rather refreshing. Different countries have to play by different rules and it shakes things up a bit if you’ve been reading primarily American mysteries.
All in all, The Murder Man is a hardcore opener with some tough edges to it. Still, Max Wolfe is a believable main character who has a lot of room to grow even after all he experiences in this, his debut. His future cases will be hard-pressed to match the intricacies of this opener, however. There are multiple threads of investigation, intricate details, and a personal life filled with emotional baggage that would topple a weaker man.
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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.
Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.