Author: Daniel Cole
Publisher: Trapeze Books
The detectives approach the object hanging ominously before them, swaying slightly in the breeze from the cracked window. Cautiously they reach out to turn it around to face them. They put their hands to their mouth stifling the rising bile as ……the blurb is revealed……
“ONE BODY. SIX VICTIMS. NO SUSPECTS.
A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter. The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them.
With six people to save, can Fawkes & Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?”
You know when you’re about to read a novel that has been hyped up to the eyeballs? And those eyeballs are at the end of a particularly tall giraffe’s neck? Up a tree? At the top of a reasonably steep hill?
Yeah, that level of hype, well, it is hard to not build up your hopes in some way going in. I had read a lot about Ragdoll, the debut novel from Daniel Cole. Nothing about the story, beyond the blurb above, but I had seen plenty about how good it was, etc and so-forth. Of course I’m a bit behind the times here as the follow-up, Hangman, is now out and it was whilst reading about that book on its blog tour that made me think that it was about time to read this one.
So I have.
And, hype or no hype, what a splendid books it is. Ok Hype Giraffe, you can come down now….easy….carefu….ow *wince*. You…er…you ok there HG? No, I think he’s fine.
Make no bones about it Ragdoll is a seriously gruesome book. It starts off with the body parts of six different people all crudely stitched together into the ‘Ragdoll’ of the title and things don’t get any less grisly from there. This is right up my street. You can’t beat a bit of gruesome in a good serial killer book. I do love a bit of gore and the macabre.
Not only do the police have to discover who these six people are, but they are also sent a list of six names from the killer, a kill list. These people are destined to die. The killer is even nice enough to say on what day. Thoughtful.
So, not only do they have to find out who the ragdoll is made up from and why, they also have to prevent six more people from being very publicly murdered. Seriously, there are some days when you really shouldn’t get out of bed, huh?
Apart from the ragdoll itself, the star of this book is one grizzled detective William Oliver Layton-Fawkes also known as Wolf.
Do you see? I’ll wait. Hurry up…..yeeessssss…..W.O.L.F. – wolf. Clever huh? I’m just glad that he wasn’t named Frederick Ulysses Clayton-Kayne. Or Colin Ulysses Newton-Turnbull. That would’ve been totes awks for 376 pages.
Wolf is a legend in his own trenchcoat, but unfortunately for him, not for the right reasons. As we discover in the prologue he went ever so slightly off piste during the trial of one Naguib Khalid, a man dubbed by the media as the Cremation Killer. An evil fucker who abducted young girls and burnt them alive. I told you things were grim in this book. Wolf is convinced of Khalid’s guilt, but when the verdict is read out, and not to his satisfaction, he goes wild. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover, but the resulting kerfuffle ends up with him in a stay in a mental hospital and swift demotion back to DS on his eventual reinstatement to the police. When the Ragdoll is discovered to be pointing into his apartment across the street Wolf is plunged back into a case he thought had long since been dealt with and was behind him.
Wolf is one of a cast of great characters in Ragdoll. Daniel writes each one of them beautifully, giving them their own distinct voice and personality. Ok, that’s what any writer should do, but you and I both know that there are times when one character very much blurs into the next, especially when there are a lot of them. I never felt that here. His dialogue is superb and the chemistry between each character is very well handled and developed. There are ones that I loved: Baxter, Edmunds and Finlay for example, and those I wanted to punch right in the face: Elijah and Andrea spring to mind here. The latter is Wolf’s ex-wife. She is a news reporter for a top TV news channel, and boy does she make some wrong choices in the pursuit of the ‘news’. She’s not totally oblivious to the damage she does, she’s even a little sympathetic at times, but then she goes ahead and does it anyway. What a cow. Her boss Elijah…urgh. What a little fucker he is. This is a credit to Daniel’s writing that he can evoke such strong reactions in this reader. You really will want to throttle him. Slowly.
Alongside the detective thriller elements, I felt that Ragdoll was also partly a satire on the media, showing up the sensationalist reporting that can arise during such high profile murders; how they turn the whole thing into a race for ratings without any consideration for the victims or their families left behind; how they are quite prepared to drag people through the mud, break them in order to get a ‘good story’. The so-called ‘Death Clock’ – counting down the time each of the people on the list has left to live – being constantly shown up on the screen during broadcasts shows just how low they will stoop. As OTT as that may sound, you just know that this is something that would most definitely happen sooner or later, if it hasn’t already, in real life.
As macabre and disturbing as Ragdoll is at times it is also very funny. Yes, funny. As in chuckle-some, even laugh out loud in places. I wasn’t expecting this if I’m honest, but it is completely at home in this story. The humour comes almost entirely from the characters themselves; the exchanges between Edmunds and Baxter, Baxter’s asides and reactions, the awkward conversations between characters caught out in an embarrassing situation or just plain lost for words, or just the simple day-to-day exchanges of life – it all sits perfectly at ease within the gruesome goings on.
Ragdoll is an exceptionally confident and assured debut. It sparkles with wit and charm, is bloody and macabre, is fast paced, cleverly plotted and ingenious. If this is what Daniel can do in his first novel I can’t wait to see where its sequel. Hangman, takes me.