Today I am finally sharing my thoughts on The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard. It’s a book that’s been sitting on my tbr for a shamefully long time but I’m glad it finally made it to the top. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
I was the girl who survived the Nothing Man.
Now I am the woman who is going to catch him…
You’ve just read the opening pages of The Nothing Man, the true crime memoir Eve Black has written about her obsessive search for the man who killed her family nearly two decades ago.
Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle is reading it too, and with each turn of the page his rage grows. Because Jim was – is – the Nothing Man.
The more Jim reads, the more he realises how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won’t give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first…
Well this is a very clever novel. A story within a story, so to speak. From the very beginning of the book we, the readers, know the identity of the eponymous Nothing Man, a large proportion of the story is told from his point of view after all. And we get to relive some of his most heinous crimes with him as he reads the autobiography of one of the only people to survive his vicious attacks. Jim Doyle is a very troubled man, his past quite shocking and not just because of his past crimes. There is far more to be revealed about him than that.
Reading the book is almost list reading a true crime novel, but the fictitious non-fiction chapters are interspersed with scenes from Jim’s life, his obsession with learning just how much the book’s author, Eve Black, really knows. She vows to expose the man who murdered her family, but can she? It made for a very unusual reading experience, part shocking by the nature of the crimes, but also intriguing as you get a really sharp focus on the psychology of both victim and aggressor in two very different styles.
I really enjoyed the styling of the ‘book’ elements of the novel, the way in which Eve examined not only the lives of some of the victims but also her approach to researching the book. It was almost an instructional guide on how to capture a murderer but including the emotions and impact of the crimes. It was not done in a sensational way, there was almost a clinical nature to the description at times, although there was no doubting the scars that the surviving victims bore. But it felt like a survivor’s tale, authentic and yet taunting. Goading the ‘Nothing Man’ to come out of hiding.
As for Jim – well he is a character that many will recognise. Carefully drawn so as not to be too much of a caricature of a ‘bad guy’, but maintaining an arrogance and sense of entitlement that he never quite managed to realise. You know he has a lot to lose, and his anger bubbles just below the surface. You can feel it emanating from the page, barely concealed and you wonder just how he got away with his crimes for so long. As you read, you understand more, but it also makes you ask questions of yourself and how easily you would recognise a killer in your midst and how, or if, you would do anything about it.
It is a story beset with secrets and shocking revelations, a slow burning novel that held my attention without ever resorting to cheap shocks or unnecessarily graphic narrative. It leads us to a high stakes finale in which more secrets are revealed but one that fits the story perfectly. Very cleverly constructed and executed, this book within a book is certainly recommended for fans of a good cat and mouse chase.
About the Author
CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Her debut thriller, DISTRESS SIGNALS (2016), was an Irish Times and USA Today bestseller, and was shortlisted for both the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Her second thriller, THE LIAR’S GIRL (2018) was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She currently lives in Dublin, where she divides her time between the desk and the sofa.