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

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