Dark Pattern (The Naturalist #4) by Andrew Mayne

DarkPatternI am loving the Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne, this is a series that has hooked me from the get go and every subsequent book has simply left me in awe of the things this author will come up with.  I adore these books – that much is fact – and Dark Pattern, well, as the name partly suggests is the darkest of the instalments yet.

All of these books are about serial killers and the material is, to put it bluntly, creepy, scary, and sometimes almost too lifelike – that’s not to say, for clarity, that any of the books are particularly gory or uncomfortable reads – more that they feel like events that could happen and this book has that reality factor in spades. The story once again sees Theo trying to hunt down a serial killer,  a killer nurse in fact.  I have to say that this storyline gave me the real chills.  The idea of a murderer, killing victims as they lie in need of care, is scary in the extreme.  It’s the combination of vulnerability and the stark reality that this isn’t unheard of in real life.

Now, to be absolutely clear, this is a series that you should start from book 1.  Theo is a complicated character and I think if you try to jump into this series without the benefit of reading from the beginning you will probably not understand him, at best, and quite likely dislike him, at worst.  Context is key in my opinion.  On top of this – this series is positively addictive and all the books, well, I’m convinced they read themselves they’re so fast paced and difficult to put down.  Don’t deny yourself the earlier books, trust me on this, they’re not only downright gripping but they’re necessary if you want to understand Theo and his character arc.

Also, if you haven’t started the series but are thinking of doing so then it’s possible that this review will contain spoilers although hopefully not.

I’m not going to over elaborate on the plot as I don’t want to give anything away.  As the story starts Theo is at an all time low.  Events from the last book are preying on his mind and he’s desperately worried that he’s exposed himself to a dangerous pathogen that could literally change his brain and possibly turn him into a killer.  It’s not a happy situation and Theo is having very disturbing thoughts about his options.  Reluctantly he agrees to follow up a lead about a suspicious death in a hospital and early enquiries start to point him in the direction of a particular nurse that people seem to suspect of wrongdoing.  all I will say is that things escalate and a huge cat and mouse style chase ensues with Theo becoming more desperate to catch the killer whilst many of the people in authority, particularly at the hospitals, are reluctant to even consider that a killer is on the loose.

So, if you’ve read the other books then you’ll be able to see a certain pattern with this one.  Theo doesn’t easily make friends or influence people.  He quite frequently comes across as arrogant and his people skills are lacking in the extreme.  I don’t think he means to be rude, he’s incredibly intelligent, able to make huge leaps and bounds with his theories and is usually so intent on his search that he leaves others in his wake.  He comes across as a little maniacal at times and is so focused on his end goal that he doesn’t have the time or patience to keep people on board or on side and to be honest this doesn’t usually endear people to him.  Like I said above, you really do need to read from the start.  Personally, I think Theo is a fascinating character to read about.

The story here is again compulsive reading.  I really didn’t see the direction we were going to go in and I loved that Theo almost seems to step back to his earlier methods in this story, using his computer models to predict behaviour patterns and come up with leads.  It really is a fast paced and gripping read and I couldn’t put it down.

However, I did have a couple of criticisms that didn’t spoil the read for me at all but did leave me with slightly mixed feelings.  The first thing is fairly minor but this story seemed to me to lack a little bit of Theo’s brilliance, or at least his powers of deduction.  Of looking at a scene from A to B and jumping forward to Z and skipping all the letters in between.  I just felt I was missing those special insights a little.  The ending however was the real issue I had here and I can’t quite make my mind up what’s going on.  On the one hand, the ending felt incredibly rushed.  Theo seemed to be spiralling and things got pretty bad pretty quick – there’s also a twist.  The thing is, these things were so abrupt that they took me at first in one direction, then stopped me in my tracks and kind of proved me wrong but then the final chapters were so quick that not only did they make my head spin but I felt like I had to go back and read them again.  Seriously, if I hadn’t known better I could have almost thought I’d unwittingly skimmed those last pages and missed something as a result!  Okay, having thought about it over the past few days I’m hoping this is some sort of tactic on the part of the author, although at the same time I have this awful niggling doubt that maybe Theo is going to go one step too far (well, okay, he probably already went one step too far but maybe next time he’ll go so far beyond the line that the line will be a dim and distant memory).

Enough speculation.

Overall, this is a gripping and powerful read and a great instalment.  This series is my catnip, I can’t get enough of it and I eagerly await the next instalment.  I have my fingers crossed for Theo and for everyone else because with his brain I dread to think what would happen if he turned to the dark side.

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

My rating 4 out of 5 stars

Murder Theory, The Naturalist #3 by Andrew Mayne

murdertheoryMurder Theory is the third instalment in Andrew Maine’s Naturalist series and is yet again a compelling and completely engrossing read. I think this could be read as a stand-alone although personally I would advise readers to check out the first two books in the series as they’re both great reads and on top of that it will give a better understanding of the main character, Theo Cray.

This books picks up just a short time after the conclusion of No.2.  We have a short opening sequence where Theo is assisting the Government with questioning a potential Russian spy.  From there the story then balloons fairly quickly with Theo himself coming under suspicion from the FBI.  It seems that a crime scene has itself become the scene of yet a further murder with two dead bodies on site and a third person missing. In typical Mayne fashion it feels a bit crazy and totally random and yet once again you are pulled very quickly into the story.

Theo once again comes up with a unique train of thought that sees the investigation take an unusual turn and I have to say that the actual theory he comes up with is pretty darned chilly to read about. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for this because this is the type of book where readers will make discoveries thick and fast all on their own but for me this particular story definitely had the scare factor in terms of making you consider possibilities and ‘what ifs’. On top of that the author has come up with a very intelligent antagonist indeed. A person who can not only put Theo to the test in very clever ways and think one step ahead but also seems to be a fan of Theo’s own particular maverick style of investigation .

On top of this we have another couple of elements to the story in terms of keeping up with Theo’s personal life and also being updated on his laboratory work, where he’s supposed to be working on a top secret initiative involving genes and terrorists.  This adds another layer of chaos to Theo’s already frantic life and demonstrates the tenuous grasp he has on the ‘normal’ life he leads and that many others take for granted.  

Theo is the sort of individual who finds it difficult to interact with others and this is something that inevitably leads him into bother with others. He doesn’t seem to have the skill set necessary to get people onboard and in fact usually ends up antagonising others with his wild theories. This book is very similar in that respect and in fact I did wonder if the series might be becoming too formulaic in that regard. Thankfully Mayne avoids this pitfall by taking Theo to an even darker level in this instalment where he really pushes the line between good and bad/right and wrong and takes the story into a different realm where reflection and doubt play a greater role. I can’t lie, Theo does push the limits in this story and whilst he’s trying to catch a baddie some of his actions do make you wonder whether he’s going too far. Thankfully I do like Theo, he’s a very interesting character to read and his theories and train of thought are fascinating and he seems to be making not only a name for himself but also, thankfully, garnering a couple of people who are sympathetic to his way of thinking – although I have my doubts about one of these. 

In terms of criticisms. Well, as I already mentioned above this felt like it could go down a familiar route. I think the author manages to keep this fresh by taking our main guy into even darker territory in terms of right and wrong. I would also mention that the ending, well, let’s just say that I t ends on one of those notes that makes you desperate to read the next book. 

Overall. I’m loving this series. It’s a little bit crazy, it’s totally compelling and I know that when I pick the next instalment up I’ll yet again be completely transfixed by Dr Cray and his world. I can’t get enough of this series at the moment. 

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

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.

 

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.