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.

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