Pavement, by Richard Butchins, is a deeply disturbing story of a serial killer. Told from the point of view of the protagonist, Smith, we are taken inside the mind of a man who exists on the edges of society. Unemployed and handicapped he lives in a damp bedsit and survives on the meagre benefits the state grants him in return for his attendance at pointless meetings. Fortnightly he is processed, ticked off a list and sent on his way. He feels invisible.
It is this invisibility and the bitterness that he feels towards the behemoth of state and its acolytes, the people who benefit from an acquisitive and controlling society, which drive him to consider hitting out against the ordinary people he observes each day as he pounds the London pavements. He reasons that if nobody notices him then he can do what he wants. He can get away with murder.
The sparse prose takes the reader inside Smith’s mind and it is not an easy place to be. Snapshots of his past suggest abuse but also a period of what would be considered normality from which he chose to walk away. He suffers from vivid nightmares with blurred boundaries between dreams and reality. He is no fool but is damaged inside, anxious and trying to cope through daily routines and occasional medication. He is aware that nobody cares about him so long as he does what is expected and follows the rules.
The story charts in grotesque detail the actions of a man who can no longer find any reason to value life. It is hard to know if it is the graphic, intense and sickening descriptions in the tale or the fact that Smith may be right in some of his reasoning that makes the book so perturbing. This is brilliant writing, atmospheric and disquieting. The imagery of the dreams alongside Smith’s observations of his everyday surroundings are haunting.
The book comes with a cautionary notice: ‘Contains extreme violence and scenes of a sexual nature’. I was glad of the warning. It is a fabulous read, but not one for the faint hearted.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press, through a Goodreads ‘First Reads’ giveaway.