Fresh Meat: The Nightmare Place by Steve Mosby

The Nightmare Place by Steve Mosby is a psychological thriller featuring Detective Inspector Zoe Dolan, who's hunting a serial rapist and murderer (available June 15, 2015).

Detective Inspector Zoe Dolan grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. She’s seen some dark things, and has done a few dark things herself. But, as the lead detective on a series of rapes, she’s never faced anything quite like this. There is no set pattern. No indication of how the rapist manages to get into his victims’ houses. To make matters worse, the violence is escalating. It’s only a matter of time before one of the victims is killed. DI Dolan has no leads.

Until Jane. Jane Webster is a volunteer at a confidential hotline – her job is to listen as people tell her their darkest secrets. One night she receives a caller who needs to unburden himself. As he talks, Jane remembers the news stories about a rapist, and the details this man reveals are eerily similar. She decides to go against her work’s directive and goes to the police. Soon, both Jane and DI Dolan are swept into a cat-and-mouse game with a very creepy killer.

Not to be all cliché, but The Nightmare Place by Stephen Mosby is a sharply written thriller with well-developed characters and an atmosphere so threatening you can almost feel it jump off the page. DI Dolan is a believable, intelligent copper. Jane Webster is a broken, isolated hero. And, after only the first chapter, the Creeper they are hunting will make you want to lock your doors.

This novel is probably one of the best I’ve read recently in drawing great psychological portraits, and that goes for both the heroes and the villains. Zoe is fighting her past, Jane is struggling with her present. Still, it’s the development of the Creeper – and before you make fun of the name, just be aware even the characters know it’s kind of a weak nom de guerre – where Mosby’s story really shines. Mosby shows a believable arc in the psychology of a killer. First there’s the fantasy. Then there’s the action. The aftermath of emotion. Then the fantasy returns and feeds an escalated action. The cycle continues until the rapist becomes a killer.

Even worse than the knowledge are the memories. He can still see everything that happened very clearly, and in his mind, the images play over and over, the most awful parts vivid and present. How could he have done that to them? The hate he felt for them makes no sense any more. It’s the memory of an emotion, and the memory doesn’t fit.

He lies in his bed, sometimes for days at a time, trying to stop himself from feeling anything at all. He calls in sick to work. And he is sick. Sometimes he wonders if people can sense it from the street – if the house stinks from the disease of him. He wakes up and imagines the women standing there in the corner of the bedroom. What’s left of them.

The atmosphere throughout this novel helps bring the characters to life as well, especially when Mosby falls into the Creeper’s point of view. Watching the Creeper watch his victims hits a 10 on the Ick Factor.

Even lying close to Julie, and with everything between them going so well, he wants to reach back and shake that earlier version of himself for being so timid. It wasn’t just the security light. It was the fact that he’d wasted time, and failed to realize that he’d missed his opportunity with Sharon. A girl as lovely as her was hardly going to stay single forever.

The important thing is that he is no longer half as timid now, and he won’t let an opportunity like that slip through his fingers ever again. Now, he is a very lucky man indeed. So he lies there thinking about Julie, and listening to the soft, gentle sound of her snoring. And after a few peaceful moments, he reaches up and lovingly touches the underside of her bed.

Seriously. Lock your doors. (Though even that didn’t help the women in this story…so good luck sleeping!)

Mosby has a deft hand when it comes to putting a bunch of disparate characters together as well. There are multiple points of view in this novel, with Zoe Dolan receiving a first person POV, and sometimes it’s hard to see how the story lines tie together, until they do. Sometimes the relationships aren’t as clear cut as you’d think. Of course all the good guys should get along…but maybe not. For example, when Zoe Dolan and Jane meet up for the first time it doesn’t go as smoothly as one would hope. Trust has to be earned between these well-drawn characters. There are complications on top of complications in this story.

It’s not often that I actually gush, but The Nightmare Place is a novel guaranteed to keep you up at night because it will make you paranoid. The characters’ histories, the backstories, the red herrings, the twists and turns, the motivations, the violence and tragedy, and the atmospheric elements all serve to creep the reader out. You will be checking under your bed. You’ll be double checking your front door, your back door, and all your windows. In fact, you better go check them right now.

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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

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