Her Last Move by John Marrs: This Thriller Left Me Feeling Gobsmacked and Awestruck

(that’s too tiny to read, sorry, click here to embiggen. There are a lot of great writers here — you’re going to want to check out those other posts.)

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

eARC, 352 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: November 8 – 12, 2018

           The very fact people were talking about him and taking him seriously was proof he was on the right path. But branding him a serial killer was lazy. Serial killers and psychopaths murder out of compulsion, he reminded himself. They do it because they have no choice. He killed with purpose. And eventually, everyone would understand why.

This is one of those books that I’m not going to do justice to. I know that now, and if not for the deadline of posting in a few hours, I’d probably walk away now and come back daily for until next Tuesday and post something I don’t like. But I do have that deadline, so I have to post something I’m not satisfied with in a few hours. I just like this one so much; and have so much that I want to say, but won’t because it would ruin your experience, that I know I’ll want a couple of mulligans to this post.

This starts off with one of those chapters we’ve all read too many times — a budding serial killer is preparing to make his first kill and is indulging in some interior monologue beforehand. This is where we start to get an understanding of the character, why he thinks he needs to be killing, why he’s so wonderful/special/different. But this chapter isn’t quite that — and by the time you realize this isn’t following the standard template, Marrs has his hooks in you — and this book is off to a startling and bloody start.

DS Becca Vincent is a young detective just trying to get somewhere in her career — it seems that her superiors, including (infuriatingly enough) women, are holding her back because of her devotion to her daughter. Not that her mother considers her that devoted as she’s doing most of the hands-on care while Becca is at work. She’s in the crowd when the first killing happens and is the first police presence at the scene. She also is the first to tie that victim to another murder victim. She leverages this into a spot on the investigation team, where she hopes she can make enough of a difference to lead to more responsibility in the future.

The first thing she’s assigned to do is to go over the CCTV tapes with a “super-recogniser.” I don’t know if this is a real thing or not, and don’t care. It works really well in this book — these are a select team of people with near-eidetic memories for faces who spend every shift pouring through security footage for faces — either to track down suspects or identify people who are near too many crime scenes to chalk up to coincidence. We meet DS Joe Russell as he recognizes a suspect on the street while riding a bus and chases him down. Becca meets him in less exciting circumstances — a dirty squadroom in a less-than-impressive looking building. She doesn’t buy the concept originally, but Joe wins her over pretty quickly.

The investigation doesn’t move quickly, there’s a lot of manpower put into it (more and more all the time), but progress is slow. A friendship develops (not without a few bumps) between Joe and Becca much more quickly, and they clearly work together well.

The killer’s spree does move quickly on the other hand. He has a plan, he’s been developing it, nurturing it, and getting it ready to carry out for a very long time. He’s spent years setting up these dominoes and when he knocks the first over, the rest fall quickly. As we watch him do that, we learn what shaped him throughout his life into the monster he’s become. Nothing that happens to him justifies what he’s doing — nothing could — but it helps the reader understand him, and empathize with him to a degree (until he gets to a certain point and you can’t empathize with him anymore).

The book is full of sincere and devoted professionals trying to get the job done in the best way to protect lives and stop the killer — we focus on a couple of them, but they’re clearly all over the place. Unlike the people on TV, these professionals have family, friends, medical issues, children, pasts, problems and joys outside the job who will distract from and inform their performance on the job. Watching Becca and Joe unsuccessfully balance these parts of their life (particularly given the pressures as the number of bodies rises) is just one of the things that Marrs does right. Come to think of it, you can say the same thing about our killer (for most of the book anyway). I’m really impressed at how much genuine tension and drama Marrs is able to mine from this.

Each death is increasingly horrific — seriously, these are some of the most gruesome murders I’ve read. Each reveals more about the killer and what’s driving him. The reader (as we have more information than the police) will put the pieces together before the Becca and Joe do. But when things start to click for the police, they’re able to figure things out quickly. It’s a very satisfying moment — the question is, do they figure things out in time to save anyone on the killer’s list?

I’ve never read Marrs before — but I will again. There’s not a wasted word in these 352 pages, not a throwaway line, useless exchange. My notes are filled with “Is he going somewhere with ____?” and “There’d better be a pay off to ___” Every time, without fail, I could’ve gone back and added the page/line that demonstrated he was going somewhere with that idea or paid off that observation. Even in my favorite reads of 2018, there are moments we probably don’t need — most of which I’m happy to have — lines, ideas, scenes that could be cut without hurting things. That’s not the case here — anything you read here is important, even if (maybe especially if) it doesn’t seem so.

I’m not sure how this would hold up to repeated reading — a lot of thrillers don’t. And I haven’t had time to try this one, but I think it’d hold up pretty well, if you’re not distracted by wondering what Marrs (or his characters) are up to, or what’s going to happen next, etc. you can focus on all the subtle little things he’s doing to create the anticipation and tension, and appreciate the skill involved in grabbing the reader and putting them through the paces.

This will suck you in, keep you entertained through the paces of the investigation, and lull you into thinking you know how things are going just long enough for you to get complacent so he can drop the floor out from underneath you. Marrs makes bold choices and will catch you off-guard at least once — I can practically guarantee that. This is one of those books that will lead you to shirk responsibilities at home and work; postpone things like eating and sleeping; and momentarily resent your family for interacting with you — particularly the last thirty percent or so (although you might have to might have to take a quick break to absorb what you just read or catch your breath). One of the best I’ve read this year — I hope you give this a shot and I bet you’ll agree.

—–

5 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — as well as Thomas & Mercer and the fine folks at Netgalley for the eARC.

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