1 February 2010

Crime Fiction Alphabet: THE CLEANER, Paul Cleave

I originally wrote this review in 2006 and it was published elsewhere.
I have re-vamped it as part of the Crime Fiction Alphabet although you may detect a slightly predictive tone towards the end.
My copy was published by Random House, Australia, 2006

Joe Middleton knows that the Christchurch Carver did not commit all of the murders attributed to him. Primarily because Joe is the Carver and a murder has been listed that he did not commit. From his vantage point of working in the police station in Christchurch, Joe is able to monitor the Carver investigation and to conduct some of his own. He has access to the conference room where the investigation is being conducted, to the station's computer system, and to the all-important team folders containing case details on individual victims. Detectives and fellow workers do not realise that beneath harmless Slow Joe, as he is known locally, there is a complex, intelligent and opportunistic killer.

Joe has his own 'murder case' containing his knives and other tools of his trade, such as latex gloves, picklocks, and evidence bags. He revisits the place of the murder he did not commit, and looks for clues about the copy-cat killer. He is adept at breaking and entering, steals cars with ease, and chooses his victims carefully. Physically strong, he moves bodies from where he kills them to where he intends them to be discovered.

The majority of novels in this genre are written from the point of view of the investigators. There only a few brave authors who try to depict things from the killer's point of view: THE CLEANER, Paul Cleave's debut novel, is one of them. Just as the readers have settled into Joe's routine, looking for the copy-cat killer, fending off well-meaning Sally at work, and visiting his domineering and demanding mother, events take a drastic turn and the action begins to gather pace.

For me there were "sticking points" in this novel. For example, I had a problem reconciling Slow Joe with the other side of his character: the rapist and serial killer who has Christchurch terrified. Perhaps Joe is schizophrenic, but the two seem to be so diametrically opposed, and I had trouble in believing they were the same person. Despite this I kept reading just to find out how the whole scenario resolved.

In this first novel, Paul Cleave has shown he has potential as a crime novelist, even if only in his fearless approach. He has been brave in setting this novel in his home town. Comparisons will inevitably be made with Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter series, and perhaps Simon Kernick's THE BUSINESS OF DYING. I believe THE CLEANER will be a stand-alone, but that we will see more offerings by this author. Random House New Zealand has apparently commissioned two more novels.

Paul Cleave has published 2 books with Random House
You might want to read more biographical details of this New Zealand author on Crime Watch.
My rating was 3.5

August 2006 review originally published on Murder and Mayhem


gautami tripathy said...

You hightlight good crime fiction authors. I will definitely check him out.

Here is my Crime Fiction Alphabet: P post!

Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Thanks, as always, for your review. Even though there were, as you put it, sticking points with this novel, I do think it's interesting when a murder story is told from the killer's point of view. That does take creativity.

BooksPlease said...

Interesting. Obviously a case of a split personality. A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell is also written from the killer's point of view, quite a chilling book.

And I've recently read Black and Blue by Ian Rankin, which is told in part from the killer's viewpoint and checking out murders done by another killer.

Kiwicraig said...

Actually, when I read the novel I thought Joe was definitely a psychopath, and deranged in terms of that (hence some of the descriptions of Chch and the way certain things seems off-kilter, out of whack, and slightly askew - because we were looking through his eyes), but not necessarily schizophrenic. I just thought he was 'acting' as Joe, not that this was a different side to his clearly-messed up personality, so to speak. Also, even when someone is pretty bad/evil, they still have moments of humanity in amongst it all (e.g. the hitmen and contract killers with families, ditto with Mob bosses etc).

A year or two after I first read THE CLEANER, some of this was confirmed when I got to interview Paul Cleave for an article in the upcoming March issue of GOOD READING magazine (Australian books magazine). Excuse the self-serving plug. :-)

Cleave says he had been reading famed FBI profiler John Douglas' books about serial killers, which allowed him to better get into the askew mind of such people. As I have had some interest in this in the past (Psyc degree), that clicked for me, in terms of why Cleave's portrayal, when I read it, seemed fairly authentic (I know some readers struggle with it, and think it's far-fetched, but I actually thought the opposite when I read it). A little like Patricia Highsmith used to allow readers to get into minds of such people...

Also, Cleave actually started writing THE CLEANER more than a decade ago, prior to the Dexter series; unfortunately the book was tied up with publisher issues for a while, so wasn't released until 2006.

I really enjoyed it, but it is my third favourite of Cleave's four books; it's raw and powerful, but his later work (particularly CEMETERY LAKE and the upcoming BLOOD MEN) seem more polished, and well-rounded to me.

Anyway, just my 2 cents. I've learned a lot more about Cleave since I first read him in 2008, so thought some of you might be interested...

Good post Kerrie. :-)


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