Now You See by Max Manning

The Blurb On The Back:

Will you look her in the eyes, just before she dies?

I, Killer has posted two photos of his first victim online – Before Death and After Death.  They’ve gone viral before DCI Fenton’s team even discovers the body.

Soon, another victim’s photo is similarly posted … and so begins the killer’s following.

DCI Fenton is determined to discover the identity of I, Killer.  Then the murderer makes the hunt personal, and Fenton’s search becomes a matter of life of death for him and his daughter.

But as I, Killer’s body-count rises, his number of online followers is growing – and he loves to give his fans what they want … 

You can order NOW YOU SEE by Max Manning from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

34-year-old DCI Dan Fenton is still grieving the death of his wife from cancer while trying to juggle being a single parent to his 11-year-old daughter Tess and the demands of his career at Scotland Yard.  The last thing he needs is for someone who calls himself IKiller to send an email to his squad with before and after photos of a young woman he claims to have killed and then post the same photos onto social media.  

When the police eventually find the body of Lauren Bishop in Hackney’s Victoria Park with her throat slashed and left in a crucifix position, Fenton knows that this is just the start of the serial killer’s campaign.  Worse, the killer is determined to publicise their activities on social media, rapidly gathering a following that in turn generates mass media interest and pressure on Fenton to catch the perpetrator – something that’s almost impossible given the lack of forensics and the killer’s apparent expertise with computers, which leaves them impossible to trace.

Adam Blake is the ex-boyfriend of Lauren Bishop, who initially finds himself in the frame for her death.  A former investigative journalist who was kidnapped by an Islamist group while on assignment in Iraq, he has his own trauma to deal with and is initially reluctant to get involved when Lauren’s sister Leah asks him to look into Lauren’s murder.

When IKiller targets Fenton personally and forces him off the investigation, Blake and Fenton form an uneasy pact to find before the body count gets any higher …

Max Manning’s crime thriller is a predictable affair with plodding dialogue and which leaves no cliche unturned, relies on the main characters acting idiotically to suit the plot and reduces the female characters to little more than corpses and plot devices.  Fenton and Blake are drawn in broad terms while remaining oddly leaden so I couldn’t empathise with either.  This seems to be the first in a planned series but I will not be reading on.

I’m going to start my review by saying that I read a lot of crime novels and a lot of thrillers so I’m probably overly sensitive to the use of tropes and themes than an “average” reader.  That said, had Manning tried to spin something original using those age-old tropes (i.e. single parent police officer struggling to juggle The Job and a home life, a killer who embraces being evil for the sake of being evil, a troubled journalist with demons) then I’d have enjoyed this a lot more.

I’ll start with the characters.  Manning clearly wants you to empathise with Fenton and Blake.  Fenton is a single dad trying to do right by his daughter and struggling with grief due to his wife’s death.  He’s a dedicated ‘by-the-rule book’ copper who has had an exemplary 15 year career and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  He’s morally outraged by the social media fascination with IKiller’s murders and doesn’t understand why people would voluntarily seek out the murder photos that the killer posts.  He has no time for psychological profiles and believes resources and good procedure are the way to track the killer down.  Then when IKiller decides to target those close to Fenton (for reasons that really don’t make a huge amount of sense given what you later learn of the killer’s motives), he realises that he has to go outside his comfort zone and bend or break some of the rules for the public good.  There’s nothing inherently bad about any of this, it just wasn’t especially interesting to read and partly that’s because there’s no nuance in Manning’s writing style – it’s all pretty leaden and black and white so when Fenton’s compromises with himself come, you don’t get a huge amount of sense of what they mean for him personally or the conflict he feels over it.

In contrast Blake is a to-hell-with-the-rules, impulsive go-getter who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to the truth, even if that means indulging his darker instincts.  The emotional hook for him is that he was kidnapped by an Islamist group and forced to watch them behead a friend of his before somehow (it’s not really clear how) getting released himself.  There is a vague sub-plot about how some in the police think this makes Blake a suspect given that the IKiller escalates their kills from throat-slitting to beheading but it’s all a bit wish-washy and Manning is so intent on having Fenton and Blake team up that any ambiguity about Blake is lost the moment Fenton decides that he’s not a suspect.  Blake’s reluctant therapy sessions with psychologist Belinda Vale are intended to show him working his problems out but none of them ring true – in the main because they seem there to show how Vale isn’t actually much good at her job.

And that brings me to my main complaint about the book.  Everyone in this novel either behaves completely unprofessionally or like an utter idiot at some point in order to move the plot forward.  For example, Vale is counselling Blake but then gets called in to advise the police on the psychological profile of the killer.  Given that she knows Blake’s ex-girlfriend is a victim and that he has been questioned by the police, she should have recused herself or at the very least stopped counselling Blake but she doesn’t because apparently she doesn’t think it’s a conflict of interest.  Similarly, when Fenton’s nanny is a victim of IKiller, he somehow still thinks that he can remain on the investigation despite the obvious conflict of interest.  Then there’s Fenton’s boss, Detective Superintendent Bell, who decides that an obviously mentally ill man is the killer on the basis of their confession despite an utter lack of physical evidence or any attempt to check on his whereabouts at the time of the crimes and who decides to release a press statement that the IKiller has been found and then – for reasons that only exist to move the plot forward – has Fenton take the rap for it.  It’s one of my personal bug bears, which is why it irked me so much because it just makes the plot seem so trite and shallow.

There are other unbelievable moments in the book as well, e.g. Fenton and his wife could apparently buy a 3 bedroom home near Angel on their combined salaries, a hacker needs a police password to enter the police database but can do so without revealing that they have the same, a detective can access parts of the police database that don’t pertain to their work and not have that flagged on the system.  Most unbelievable of all though is the fact that IKiller’s photos are always instantly found on social media and there’s nothing that Twitter, Instagram etc can do to stop it – you only have to see the speed at which social media companies went after Islamist terror group content to know that this doesn’t ring true.  It all just left me rolling my eyes and feeling rather bored.

Also boring is the lack of female characters within the book and how they’re treated.  The only two female characters of any worth are Leah who exists as the plot device to get Blake and Fenton to work together and as a possible love interest for Blake, which is a world of ick given that he was dating her dead sister and apparently can’t see the problem; and Barbara Vale who exists to bring out Blake’s back story and annoy the IKiller with her profile (which is so laughingly generic that I had to wonder how she got the job).  I had high hopes in the beginning given that Fenton works with Detective Sergeant Marie Daly but she is little more than a name on the page as Manning is more interested in a sub-plot involving eager-beaver Detective Constable Ince.  I also had hopes for Marta Blagar, Fenton’s nanny because Manning goes to a lot of trouble to give her a background – a Romanian trying to make a living in London who has lied about her qualifications and is pretending to be Latvian because Romanians have a bad reputation.  Unfortunately it isn’t long before she becomes IKiller fodder and all of the interesting stuff about her background and how that could impact on Fenton remains unexplored.

All this brings me to IKiller themselves.  Again, Manning tries to spice them up by including short chapters from their point of view, which is intended to explain their actions and how they see themselves.  Again, we’re in bog standard looney killer who’s self-rationalising their behaviour and revelling in how evil they are and how their victims are prey and blah blah blah.  There’s just no depth here, nothing of interest and when you finally get the reveal (which is less of a surprise than Manning intends because by that point there’s only one person who it could possibly be), their initial motivation is so laughable that I had to read it twice to see if it was intended ironically.  Spoiler: it isn’t.

Manning clearly has thoughts on social media and the degeneracy of people who seek out violent content on the web and how traditional media can amplify that content.  I can’t argue with that but the fact that his portrayal of social media companies and the way they tackle that content (in this book it takes at least 24 hours for content to be taken down and apparently people can instantly find content from brand new accounts without any trouble at all) doesn’t really advance the argument.

About the only good thing I can say about the book is that it is a pacy read as Manning uses short chapters to get his scenes across.  It seems that this is intended as the first in a new series but I have to say that I didn’t care about Fenton or Blake to want to read more about either of them.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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