Another review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #42:-
KILLING THE BEASTS by CHRIS SIMMS
Orion hb, 288pp, £12.99
The Commonwealth Games of 2002 are central to this Manchester based thriller, with events before and after that watershed woven into the plot. A former star of the rugby field, John Spicer is now a police detective. Prior to the Games Spicer was the head of a task force charged with catching a ring of car thieves specialising in high performance motors, and after he is transferred to a murder enquiry, the tentative first step in the hunt for a serial killer who, apparently, strikes at random. Spicer’s friend Tom Benwell is making a lot of money off the back of the Games by selling advertising space at choice venues around the city, a demanding job that places him under considerable strain, and when he disappears Spicer is led to the conclusion that not only are his two cases, past and present, linked but Benwell is somehow involved in both.
Where this book scores is in the characterisation, especially that of the two leads. Benwell is a perfectly realised example of yuppie grace folding under pressure, with his high powered job and trophy wife who lives to shop, the sports car and the two hundred pound a day habit, clinging on to his dream of retiring to run a seaside café in Cornwall as his life crumbles around him. Spicer is in many ways his opposite, happy with his comparatively ordinary girlfriend and challenging, but low paid job, though even he isn’t as well adjusted as he could be, with commitment issues in his relationship and a dark streak, the violence that served him so well on the rugby field carrying over into his police career with somewhat less success. Rugby is the pretext for these two men to be friends and as such works tolerably well, providing a cache of shared memories and easy camaraderie. And yet, even here, Simms somewhat fumbles the ball, so the reader is left wondering if Tom and John are meant to be seen as best friends or simply occasional drinking buddies, something that isn’t always clear from the way they interact.
Plot on the other hand is where the novel falls down, with a little too much complication for its own good and twists that don’t really convince. As an example, the killer’s reason for choosing his victims comes over as entirely superficial, pure flim flam and picked on not for any solid grounding in the character of the murderer, but simply because it’s something the reader, like the police, will never think of, and, in parenthesis, I have to express some incredulity that all of his victims are female when my own experience is that men are far more prone to the offence that ticks him off. Similarly, the way in which the characters are all connected is stretching credibility and an unnecessary ploy, serving no real purpose except to provide enough red herrings to put Billingsgate out of business. It culminates in an almost Keystone Cops style ending, with Spicer having twigged the connection between the previous victims and realising that everyone in his address book is a potential target, so chasing from one house to another in an attempt to cut the killer off at the pass. The mental illness that besets the killer seems convincingly portrayed, though I’m not in a position to say for sure, but the way in which this illness is expressed doesn’t quite click, is just another faux demonstration that care in the community doesn’t work.
Simms’ prose is easygoing and Killing the Beasts is ideal for a long coach journey, the circumstances in which I read the book, but overall I didn’t find it sufficiently convincing or compelling.