Serial Damage, by Liz Cowley and Donough O’Brien, is a crime thriller set over three continents. It tells the story of a killer whose victims appear unconnected, and whose lives would not be expected to warrant such attention. Each murder has been executed with care suggesting planning and cold blooded resolve.
Alice Drummond is a psychologist building her private practice in London. When her eighty-four year old godmother is shot whilst tending to her roses in her remote, Cornish garden Alice is at a loss as to why anyone would target an old lady. The only person with any apparent motive is a financially compromised nephew who stands to benefit from a substantial inheritance. He shows little distress at his aunt’s passing but has an alibi for the time of her death.
In Kent an old man is killed in a care home. In Belfast a much admired swimming coach is shot at his local leisure centre. The killer travels to America and then to Hong Kong before returning to London and bringing it to a standstill when he attacks again.
In each case the separate police forces remain baffled as to why their victim has been selected. The crime scenes offer scant evidence and motives remain unclear.
The reader is offered details on each murder and on the movements and mindset of the killer. Background events suggest why he acts as he does.
Alice’s private life is narrated. She is looking for Mr Right and wonders if she has found him when a friend introduces her to the entertaining and steady John. Although enjoying John’s company he lacks the frisson she is often drawn to in less reliable men. When she meets the handsome and enigmatic David, who whisks her away on luxurious, sexually satisfying yet somehow disturbing dates, she is unable to resist. She keeps these liaisons secret thinking that, at her age, it is time she chose a suitable husband and settled down. John is kind and attentive, but would this be enough when he is unexciting in bed?
The structure of the story is unusual with its switches between character study and police investigation. The pace is steadier than in many crime thrillers with focus shifting between the impact of death on the various families and the ongoing killing spree. Several characters are introduced who provide insight but little action. Even Alice is not a typical, modern and independent woman. There is a right wing feel to the book that I rarely encounter in my chosen literature.
The killer is an interesting creation, although the completion of his part in the tale felt quite far fetched. The story held my attention, I enjoyed the psychological profiling, but overall I would have preferred a tighter focus. I was left with a feeling of ambivalence despite this being an engaging enough read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane Publications.