The Nightmare Place
Steve Mosby
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Buy *The Nightmare Place* by Steve Mosbyonline

The Nightmare Place
Steve Mosby
Pegasus Books
336 pages
September 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Nightmare Place.

“Memory can sometimes be a strange thing indeed.”
This is the first murder thriller I’ve read by Steve Mosby, and brutality is layered into the dark mythology of “the monster,” a serial killer plaguing women in this unnamed city in England. Nicknamed "The Creeper" by the city’s Organized Crime Squad, his presence proves to be a terrifying distraction for all the beautiful girls who can’t even lock their doors and windows at night to prevent him from entry. Hot in relentless pursuit is Detective Inspector Zoe Dolan, who grew up in the dilapidated Thornton estate, a section of the City plagued with drugs and violence. Zoe narrates her tale in the first person, uncovering troubled dreams of Thornton’s waste ground: “an expanse of old tarmac with a ghost standing beneath an aquamarine sky.” As Zoe wakes from sleep, her heart pounding, the same phrase keeps repeating itself: “something is coming.”

Over the years Zoe has learned to trust her gut instincts, and she’s positive that The Creeper will eventually be apprehended. Diligently applying herself to solving the case, Zoe sees few clues in the details. It’s been five days since Julie Kennedy, the latest victim of The Creeper, was attacked and raped in her own home. So far there have been five other victims, all women and all young and exceptionally beautiful. But as the number increases, a connection between any of them has so far proved to be non-existent. From Katie Ryland to Julie Kennedy, Zoe and her team see the damage accumulating, the rapes remaining a constant feature as the assaults themselves become more vicious, more extended, and more central to the crime.

The perspectives of two other characters flesh out the narrative, their lives proving to be as unique and haunting as Zoe’s. Although she doesn’t quite know it yet, Jane Webster will play a pivotal role as she sits in her enclosed booth in the offices of the local helpline, where the phone flashes deep red with what is perhaps the first confessions of The Creeper. There’s also elderly Margaret, who laments the loss of her husband and, in her loneliness, has begun to connect with the family living across from her. With only her misfit great-nephew Kieran for company as the pair of them make their ungainly piecemeal way through life, Margaret is largely content--until the angry man next door decides to unleash his fury on her.

Moving from Jane’s certainty that she’s actually talked with a demonic killer to Rachel, Jane’s friend who volunteers at the Center, Mosby tracks Jane listening to the ramblings of a madman trying desperately to minimize what he’s done in his final moments of a self-destructing life. For Zoe, meanwhile, the clues pile up: the stealing, the keys, the stolen possessions, and the mystery of a second man that slots so conveniently between them. How does The Creeper obtain access to flats when the windows and doors are securely locked? The first victim, beauty store employee, Sharon Hendricks still survives and remains under heavy guard, Zoe still hopeful that Sharon will be able to shed light on the perpetrator--a long shot at best. Like the other victims, Sharon tells Zoe the same thing that all the other victims reported: the strength, aggression, and violence, something that was “more like a monster than an ordinary man.”

When yet another girl, similarly brutalized, is found murdered in her home, her body stuffed down the side of the bed in an attempt to hide her, Zoe takes notice of Jane’s insecure ramblings, the trail taking the Detective back to the Thornton estate when she doesn’t exactly relish the prospect of going back. As the images and impressions form in her head, there are a number of false starts before Zoe begins to develop a clearer picture of an attacker, one with no boundaries, and one who struck Sally Vicker’s head and face and chest with such blind ferocity.

The Creeper himself is portrayed in a way that only increases the novel’s pervasive sense of evil. He is indeed a monster who despises violence but has “to go in hard.” He hotly pursues these women, fully aware that he engages in dangerous behavior that he needs to change. He blames these women and hates them with equal force even as he vows to stop. What is distinctive about him is not his physical features but what lies behind as the violence intensifies, seemingly to beat out of him “like heat from a fever.” In these passages, Mosby writes with a brooding sense of impending doom and imminent danger. As tense as the situation at first appears, events become fraught with hints at Zoe’s festering guilt over scarred and damaged school friend Jemima, who was herself a victim of a violent and terrible attack three decades ago on the Thornton estate.

While Mosby’s clever, tight plotting eventually brings us into the arms of a killer, his skillful combination of brutality and the muddy landscapes of Zoë’s gustiness are what really make this novel so explosive. Although its blatant misogyny won’t be for all readers, Mosby’s cruel revelations are important from the perspective of his exploration of the nature of violence and the dark, gruesome lengths that people will go to in order to take what they think is theirs.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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