Looking Glass (The Naturalist #2) by Andrew Mayne

lookingI love this series so much right now.  It’s gone straight to the top of my ‘must read’ list and to be honest it’s the one time in my life that I actually wish I was late to the party – because then I could just pick up one book after another to satisfy my need to read more.  As it is, I’ll have to be patient and wait and pray to the God of Books that ‘pretty please, let there be lots and lots more books with Professor Theo Cray’.

To be honest, I picked this one up and had no expectations of liking it as much as The Naturalist, how could Mayne possible knock it out of the park again?  I simply loved the setting of the Naturalist.  The wilderness just gave the book an extra dimension of fear and the fact that the main protagonist is a nerdy scientist as oppose to a tough cookie all added to the tension.  So, yes, I confess, even though I wanted to love Looking Glass I picked this up with an almost belligerent stubbornness that there was no way on earth it was going to win me over or top the Naturalist.  Then, I read the first few pages, harrumphing to myself, inwardly thinking that I already didn’t like the setting as much, etc, etc, and what do you know, ten pages in and I was hooked.   Couldn’t put the book down.  What the hell.  I’m not going to say this is better than The Naturalist because I couldn’t call it – I am going to say that it’s every bit as good and it just knocked my socks off.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series then I would point out that it’s not essential to do so before picking up Looking Glass.  So far the books have been self contained stories in their own right.  However, why deny yourself the pleasure of picking up The Naturalist, it’s so good and also you’ll have a better understanding of Prof Cray if you’ve read the first book.  Basically, Cray is one smart individual.  He’s not a detective and doesn’t work for the police or in an investigative field.  He studies scientific data and has come up with a model for predicting patterns.  Having come to the notice of the authorities in the first book he is now working in an advisory capacity on covert operations.  That is until he’s approached by a distraught parent wanting answers about his son who went missing a few years ago.  He reluctantly agrees to look at the case, let’s be honest, all the clues have long since gone cold, and yet once again Theo is able to make use of not only his above average intellect but his ability to think differently.  I would say ‘outside the box’ but that’s a conventional phrase and there’s nothing conventional about Professor Cray.

I’m not going to discuss the plot other than to say that Theo will once again be on the trail of a serial killer, a killer who seems to be obscured by urban myth and is known as the Toy Man.

Once again Theo seems to be searching through the seedy underbelly of society and not only is this a dangerous endeavour bringing him to the attention of gangsters and hidden bureaus but potentially means his life is in serious danger.  He’s rattling a cage here that could release some serious monsters.

For me personally the real draw of these books is Theo.  In some ways this series and Theo himself remind me of Sherlock Holmes.  To be clear, these stories are nothing like Conan Doyle’s stories, nor is Theo a detective.  I hesitate to use the term because of it’s negative connotations but really he’s a vigilante – at least that’s what he would be called by the general populace of the world in which he lives.  In real terms Theo is simply someone who is relentless when he has a problem to solve.  He can’t let it go.  Like Holmes he works things out in a methodical way and similar to that famous detective I would say he has ‘issues’ in connecting with others.  In Theo’s case this means he has an ability to think differently, to examine data for what it is, what it means and what it says.  It makes him a fascinating character to read about.  Part of the thrill of Holmes was listening to his theories, how he’d figured something out and this is a very strong part of the enjoyment, for me anyway, with these stories.

As you would expect with a second in series the main character has grown.  When we first met Theo he was totally absorbed by his work and statistics.  He had very little interaction with others and his scientific work took up all his time.  His exploits in the first book unfortunately cast him in a rather poor light in terms of his academic peers and his work as a tutor and scientist have crashed.  That being said he’s kept busy.  In this book we find a slightly more savvy character.  Theo has learnt a few things through his near death experiences.  That’s not to say that he won’t still put himself in harm’s way – just that he will reflect on his actions before he does so.  Some of his exploits, well, they had me on the edge of my seat.

I don’t think there’s too much more I can say really without spoiling the potential for surprise.  Basically, if you want to read an intelligent, thought provoking, well written and gripping series, a series about serial killers, a series about detecting that isn’t a detective novel, then here you go.  This is a thrilling ride.  It’s dark.  It’s a little over the top, it’s original and totally, absolutely ridiculously addictive.  If you pick this up, prepare for total absorption, you can’t get off in the middle of a roller coaster ride after all.

In case you haven’t guessed, I loved this and can’t recommend it enough.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, for which my thanks.

 

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The Naturalist (The Naturalist #1) by Andrew Mayne

naturalistAlthough I do like to read some murder/mystery stories they’re not my usual ‘go to’ books and I admit I would have completely overlooked The Naturalist if not for such a glowing review over at The Bibliosanctum.  I’m so glad that I read this.  It’s a fast paced, thrilling story with a very unusual and prolific serial killer and a lot of forensic amateur detecting.  I just loved it.  It held me rapt from the prologue to the straight-out-of-the-stalls action that commenced from Chapter 1 and didn’t let up until the finale.  What a great read.  Okay, maybe you could pick holes in it if you really wanted, there are certainly some very over the top scenes, but for me it was fascinating, it was thrilling, I loved the concept and in fact the whole notion of the serial killer here is seriously a little (okay a lot) scary.

The story begins with the death of a young woman.  Professor Theo Cray is paid a visit by the police to ‘help with their enquiries’.  The fact that he knew the victim (she was a former student) and was randomly in the same part of the country at the same time doesn’t sit to well with them and things are going badly for the Professor until the cause of death is confirmed as an animal attack.  Feeling terrible guilt at not having prepared his former student better for such forays into the wild the professor begins to examine the details a bit more thoroughly, initially to assuage his own misplaced feelings, but then to dig deeper when he starts to find things that just don’t add up.

I won’t go further into the plot because I think that if you’re anything like me you should go into this with as few clues as possible as this will allow the story to take you down the route of red herrings and jumped-to-conclusions.  I think at the end of the day, when you’re reading a mystery story you’re always trying to second guess the outcome, it’s just natural isn’t it?  You want to be able to pat yourself on the back and gloat (even if just to yourself) at how clever you are for guessing correctly.  Well, there was no back patting for me here.  I was constantly kept on my toes, I had the wrong end of the stick more than once and I’m pleased to say that this story jumped about in directions that I would never have anticipated.

So, if I’m not going to tell you about the plot what am I going to tell you about, you might well ask? All about Professor Theo Cray who is a very entertaining protagonist indeed.  Cray is  a computational biologist.  Yeah, I had no idea what that was to be frank.  Basically let’s just say he’s a clever cookie.  I’m sure he spends a lot of his time looking at microbes and other things that would be meaningless to me but that really play a big part in this story.  The real thing with Cray is that he’s not a people person.  He doesn’t really relate well to others and is missing that particular ‘gene’ that gives him the ability to socialise, mingle or make small talk.  He’s this incredibly straight forward, no nonsense, look at the facts and follow the clues type of guy and more than that he’s like a dog with a bone once he’s onto something.  Tenacious and almost Holmes like in his ability to come up with the most random things to analyse.  He’s not always his own best friend.  He walks right into dangerous situations and sometimes seems to be talking his way into a prison cell and a life sentence and to be honest, his sometimes cold and analytical way of looking at things definitely makes you look at him askew, it certainly seemed to make him into a prime suspect in the eyes of the police.

Cray is a great character to read about.  Even if some of his deductions are a little bit of a stretch of the imagination he makes for entertaining reading as he takes you on an obsessive chase across America looking for bodies.  The scientific theories that he comes up with seem so plausible that you can’t help wondering why some of them aren’t seriously adopted, particularly the way that he analyses data to make predictions.  And he takes us to some interesting places indeed.  Small backwater towns that have suffered decline and the rise of crime as a result.  Places where you feel that the professor is in danger just because he’s so naive about people and lets be honest, he’s turning stones over here and when you turn over stones, you sometimes find things that creep about.

I can’t really tell you much more.  I don’t suppose this is the most eloquent of reviews because I seem to become tongue tied when I really want to praise something.  Why does it feel so much easier to be critical.  Anyway, I don’t have any criticisms for the Naturalist.  It was, simply, a book that I couldn’t put down.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.