One of the good things about book blogging is the opportunity to read some brilliant books ahead of publication, and also being introduced to new series and authors. I also get this from blogging for First Monday Crime, the perfect excuse to immerse myself in brilliant books each month. This month I have gotten my sticky mitts on a copy of The Photographer by Craig Robertson and what a treat it was. I’ll be sharing my thoughts in just a moment after we’ve taken a look at what this book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
The sergeant took some from each box and spread them around the floor so they could all see. Dozens upon dozens of them. DI Rachel Narey’s guess was that there were a few hundred in all.
Many of them were in crowd scenes, some just sitting on a park bench or walking a dog or waiting for a bus or working in shops. They seemed to have no idea they’d been photographed.
A dawn raid on the home of a suspected rapist leads to a chilling discovery, a disturbing collection hidden under floorboards. Narey is terrified at the potential scale of what they’ve found and of what brutalities it may signal.
When the photographs are ruled inadmissible as evidence and the man walks free from court, Narey knows she’s let down the victim she’d promised to protect and a monster is back on the streets.
Tony Winter’s young family is under threat from internet trolls and he is determined to protect them whatever the cost. He and Narey are in a race against time to find the unknown victims of the photographer’s lens – before he strikes again.
Okay. It’s official. I am useless. I admit it. Useless because, in spite of having had Murderabilia on my shelf for over twelve months, I’ve still not read it. In fact … I’m more useless than that as The Photographer is the first Narey and Winter book I have read proving what a complete fool I have been as this was a cracking read and I know I have been missing out terribly.
Confessions over, I guess I should tell you why huh? Well – it’s hard to explain but I think that a lot of people will understand however badly I explain it. First up, this is, technically, a very easy book to read. The characters, as you would probably expect from a series, are so well developed, so real, that in spite of this being my first introduction, I didn’t feel at too much of a disadvantage and was easily able to pick up with them and liked them instantly. It is clear I’ve missed something – do not tell me wha, I shall go back and read for myself – but for anyone new to this series, this won’t stop you from reading the book and understanding what is what and who is who. and the quality of writing, the narrative style and pacing , is absolutely fantastic. It just flowed. No awkward moments, no questions unanswered and no doubt that from the moment I started reading I was absolutely absorbed by the book. 100%. That is what I mean by it is an easy book to read. Quality writing that engages and often enrages but reels you in like a fish on a hook.
Because … compared to that it is easy to say that, subject wise, this is less easy to read. Less palatable and, by a cruel twist of fate that so often occurs when drawing inspiration from real events, so incredibly topical right now. This is a book about a serial rapist. No ifs, no buts. They are not what people may expect, not an obvious monster, although their actions are monstrous. They hide in plain sight, a respectable member of society. And this becomes a true battle of nerve as Narey knows who has done it but lacks the ability to prove it, the entire story then becoming the journey to prove his guilt. And the book itself refers to a major case which has been dominating headlines of late, proving that such a serial offender can and does sadly exist.
Rightly or wrongly, it has to be acknowledged that this is a very brave book for any male writer to attempt right now. With all the horror stories in the media about abuse of power and position by strong male authority figures, for any man to attempt to portray the impact of rape upon women could easily be taken in entirely the wrong way. It shouldn’t matter who is writing this story but, as things stand, it sadly does.
It might be tempting to over compensate, to justify the rape as an act of evil as men are evil and used to having power over women. It might be easy to simplify the portrayal of the victim, that all women who suffer sexual assault become either quivering wrecks or gung-ho warriors for justice. Nothing is that straight forward. The relationship between abused and their friends and family, how they interact with others and their reaction to the abuse they suffer is far more complex than that. And while you would like to think all men should be outraged and up in arms about what has happened, demanding justice, life is not that simple for men either.
In truth there is no one size fits all reaction to this kind of serial abuse and there is no simple explanation for why a person should choose to commit rape either. I have to take my hat off to Mr Robertson as I think he has reflected this perfectly in the book and the way in which he has approached it is just right. There is no justification, no simply writing the perpetrator off as being born evil, and yet there is no absolute ruling out of that fact either. In that respect the reader is allowed to pass their own judgement.
For me, Winter’s reaction as he tries to get into the mind of the rapist is very telling, perhaps the most honest depiction of how most, but not all, men would react. The fact he is torn between the recognition of some of the victims or potential victims as beautiful women, the inability to completely shut off from natural reaction he has to the attraction, but his acknowledgement that to take things any further, even just the act of investigating the women without their knowledge makes him feel seedy. And then the overriding need to protect his family – his wife, his daughter – pushing him on above all else. This … this is the reaction most men would be expected to feel. Most …
But sadly not all. There are the opposite kinds of people out there. The keyboard warriors, the permanently angry. The misogynistic, chauvinistic, vicious kind of haters who will gladly accept any reason to put women down and accept a slanted and corrupt version of the truth. They are all represented here. The truly negative side of social media laid bare and threatening Narey and her daughter. This adds an element of threat to an already dark case, but not enough to hold either Narey or Winter back. If anything it spurs them on and makes the reader even more engaged in seeing the guilty brought to justice. And the guilty party is never hidden. It’s not one of those kind of cases. Their aggression is there for all to see, but not enough for anything to stick. Yet, like a cheap Teflon pan, that non-stick quality is only effective until the coating starts to flake. It is just up to Narey and Winter to find that first little chip, grab a hold and peel it all back.
Which brings me back to feeling like a fool. A complete tool for not having read any of these books before. I’m going to have to make it my mission to catch up as this is a writer too good to miss. The balance of this book, the way in which the atrocities are depicted in such clear terms but without being gratuitous, the fine line walked between outright condemnation and a simple portrayal of the complicated truth of this kind of case and people’s reactions to it, be it the victims or simply those who follow it on the news, even the individual reactions of the victims, is pretty much perfect. A difficult subject but extremely well handled, avoiding cliché but not avoiding the harsh reality of the situation.
If you want to find out for yourself what makes this book work so well, it is available now from the following retailers. I have to say a big thank you to publishers Simon & Schuster for providing an advance copy of the book for review.
About the Author
Craig Robertson is a Sunday Times bestselling author, and his debut novel, Random, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger. His most recent novel, Murderabilia was longlisted for the UK’s top crime fiction awards, including Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2017 and the McIlvanney Prize 2017. During his twenty-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper, Craig Robertson interviewed three recent prime ministers and reported on major stories including 9/11, the Dunblane school massacre, the Omagh car bombing, and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
Photograph courtesy of DC Thomson – Simon & Schuster website.
If you live in the London area or if you are feeling brave and, like me, fancy a bit of a road trip, Craig Robertson will be appearing at First Monday Crime on Monday 5th February at City University. First Monday Crime is a monthly gathering for authors, publicists, agents, editors, students, and avid readers of crime fiction. Each month a new panel of authors is lined up to discuss writing, the world of crime, and their latest novels. February’s panel will see Craig alongside Chris Carter, CJ Tudor and Tamar Cohen. You can reserve your tickets for this free event on the First Monday Crime website here.