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Thursday 22 January 2015

‘The Doll Maker’ by Richard Montanari

Published by Sphere,
21 August 2014.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-4931-7

Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, but if Richard Montanari’s Balzano and Byrne police procedural series is an accurate representation, it appears it has its fair share of murder and mayhem.

The Doll Maker is the eighth in the series, and the characters are already well developed. Kevin Byrne has a dysfunctional personal life which includes a deaf daughter and a broken marriage; Jessica Balzano is happily married to another cop, and has two kids and ambitions beyond the squad room.

What sets this pair apart from other American cop duos is that it’s the male partner who has the highly developed intuition – the instincts which border on second sight. Balzano is a good detective who knows how to read the clues and join the dots, but it’s Byrne who has senses on high alert and hunches that pay off.

In The Doll Maker they are faced with a decidedly spooky situation: a serial killer who leaves a doll at every crime scene – but no ordinary doll. Each doll is meticulously dressed and painted to resemble the previous victim.

The path trodden by the two detectives to solve this dark and cryptic crime is a convoluted one, veering from Death Row to child psychology, and sometimes the connections they make are far from easy to follow. But somehow the reader trusts them to get there in the end, even if it’s sometimes unclear where they’re going.

The reader has the advantage of them, of course, because Montanari interleaves the progress of the investigation with chapters from the viewpoint of the murderer – or, since it’s revealed quite early and isn’t really a spoiler, the two murderers. He does it skilfully, capturing the voices of the macabre pair with a deft precision.

There’s plenty of suspense to hold the attention; by the edge-of-the-seat final showdown I had long since given up on getting an early night. Both pace and tone are sufficiently varied to make nearly 500 pages feel more like 300.

Occasionally I felt Montanari showed a tendency to over-explain in a number of places where he could have trusted the reader to make the connections. But that was a minor flaw, and a small price to pay for an absorbing read and the discovery of a pair of intriguing cops I never knew existed before I picked up this book.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Richard Montanari was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the scion of a traditional Italian-American family, which means he learned two things very early in life. One: ravioli tastes much better than baby formula. Two: if you don't get to the table on time, there is no ravioli. After an undistinguished academic career, Richard traveled Europe extensively, living in London for a time, where he sold clothing in Chelsea, and foreign language encyclopedias door-to-door in Hampstead Heath.  Needless to say, he hawked a few more ties than tomes, but neither job paid enough to keep him in beer and skittles. So, he returned to the States and joined his family's construction firm.  Five years and a hundred smashed thumbs later, he decided that writing might be a better job. After working as a freelance writer for years, during which time he was published in more than two hundred publications -- including The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Seattle Times, and many others -- Richard wrote three pages of what was to become the first chapter of  Deviant Way.  He was immediately signed to a New York agency. When he finished the book, Michael Korda signed him to a two-book deal at Simon & Schuster. In 1996 Deviant won the OLMA for Best First Mystery.

 Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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