Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Murder Man.
Social media rears its ugly head in this London-based murder mystery, complicating an investigation that begins with one grisly killing promptly followed by another… and another. The first victim is a wealthy, successful banker, the second a homeless drug addict, the third somehow connected to men who first appear to have nothing in common. The killings are assigned to Detective Constable Max Wolfe, recently assigned to the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Investigation Team, West End Central, under the supervision of DCI Victor Mallory. Wolfe garnered headlines in a flamboyant takedown of a terrorist suspect, a role that caused some bad feelings with his superiors and a reputation he would like to leave in the past. The current murders, mired in the detritus of two decades of secrecy, are performed with an unusual weapon that silences victims with the slash of a throat: “No windpipe, no scream.”
One of Parsons’ most impressive strengths is his character development, from primaries Max and Malloy to the men they begin to interview after the murders, all connected by a relationship begun at Potter’s Field Cottage. At the private boy’s school on a secluded campus, young men are trained to become successful members of society. Raising his five-year-old daughter, Scout, Max is still grieving the loss of his wife, attempting to fill the gaping hole in the center of his family—or at least alleviate the sadness—by purchasing a puppy for Scout, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Stan. Despite Stan’s penchant for creating chaos in their spacious loft, Wolfe senses that this addition to the family is helping both of them move on.
Nor is Max’s thoughtfulness confined to his home life: Max is sensitive to others, whether colleagues or interview subjects. His natural sympathy and curiosity are part of his particular appeal as a protagonist. Wolfe doesn’t attempt to hide his flaws: he lives with them. To keep the story engaging and relevant, the plot is salted with not only the rarified environs of private education on a campus favored by Henry VIII, but the randomness of real life beyond the corridors of wealth, the human foibles that become distractions and affect the progress of an investigation that numbers three dead, then four.
A case in point: while Wolfe and Mallory look toward Potter’s Field College for answers in the seven boys who created an early, unbreakable bond, an enterprising female journalist begins a series on a man she claims is the killer— “Bob the Butcher”, who has an online presence and claims the crimes as his own. While authorities at the highest level attempt to discover the identity of a man who hides his virtual tracks with anonymous software, the murders continue. Meanwhile, “Bob the Butcher” becomes a folk hero, killing the rich in the name of the poor, a growing embarrassment to the police.
From the exclusive homes of the wealthy to the secluded campus where young men lead a sheltered existence, from the weapons museum used for the training of new recruits to the press conferences where reporters demand to know if “Bob the Butcher” is the killer, Max pulls on a fragile thread of suspicion that leads from one person to another and long-buried secrets, avoiding the an intrusive media that impedes a serious investigation, trying to find the answers before another victim is claimed or another life ruined.
For those who love mysteries, The Murder Man is a gripping read from the first page, beautifully constructed, compelling and addictive, featuring a protagonist whose humanity and intelligence is consistently appealing, in a plot that never slackens its pace, old world ideals and new world realities colliding in a socking denouement.