A review that originally appeared in Black Static #14:-
I Can See You (Headline hardback, 512pp, £12.99), is the latest novel from Karen Rose, a writer with a proven track record in the crime/thriller genre.
Noah Webster is a Minneapolis homicide detective, a member of the famous ‘Hat Squad’, and also a recovering alcoholic, having sought refuge in a bottle after the tragic death of his wife and child in a car accident. And yet Noah goes to a bar every week, drawn by his attraction to bartender Eve Wilson. Eve has noticed him too, but has her own troubled history to deal with. The survivor of not one, but two violent attacks that left her scarred physically and psychologically, she has a whole kitbag full of neuroses, and feels she can never have a relationship with a man. Eve finds comfort and self-worth in her work as a graduate student with a project that involves researching online activity, discovering how people’s internet relationships affect those they have in the real world. But then Eve’s test subjects from online community Shadowland become the targets of a killer who fakes their suicide, dressing the corpses in gaudy clothes, gluing open their eyes and stealing a shoe as a souvenir. Eve and Noah must join forces to solve the case and prevent more deaths, along the way dealing with their feelings for each other and the past issues that keep them apart.
Shadowland was probably inspired by Second Life, the Internet’s largest, user-created, 3D virtual world community (at least, that’s what it says on their website), and if memory serves me correct a while back an episode of CSI: New York featured a connection between murders in the real world and activity in Second Life. The way in which virtual reality is used here is interesting and adds a touch of originality to the mix, but seems like a bit of a stretch on occasion to those who don’t see the fascination of life online 24/7. Rose makes it work through painstaking attention to technical detail and walk throughs of Shadowland in which Eve introduces us to the various characters, giving them personalities that reflect and complement those of their real world counterparts. The appeal of virtual reality is made implicit, that online you can be anyone you wish, act in a totally different manner to the ‘real world’ you, but equally under Rose’s artful direction it becomes just the sort of place where a killer might hunt for socially inadequate prey.
A particular strength of this book is the complexity of the story, with Rose adding subplots that feed into and off of the main narrative arc. There’s a father and son hit squad with a grudge against Noah and his partner Phelps, a young woman searching for her missing prostitute sister and a reporter who seems to have a hard on for Webster doing his best to poison the relationship with Eve. Rose does an excellent job of stage managing all these disparate elements of her plot, keeping a firm grip on things and never letting them get out of hand. And she wisely resists the temptation to gross out on the murders, avoiding the Grand Guignol effects of the Carter and Jeffrey in favour of something low key and more believable, with sinister grace notes that keep reader and detectives alike off balance, such as the pit in which the killer disposes of the bodies of his ‘other’ victims.
Rose has characterisation down pat too, as seen in the friction between Webster and his partner Phelps, who is falling down on the job, the esprit de corps of the police officers and their civilian helpers, the obvious affection shown Eve by the members of her extended family/support group. Solid work is done in providing a convincing background and motivation for the killer, with explanations of why he glues the women’s eyes wide open and why he takes one shoe, so that this is the most believable of the serial killers under consideration here, and also the most chilling, the one most tainted with the touch of reality.
Central to the story is the relationship between Noah Webster and Eve Wilson, and at first I found their look but don’t talk stand offs a bit unnatural, clichéd even, but as the story unrolled they grew on me and what had caused difficulty became explicable in the light of who these people are. Both are flawed individuals, damaged by their past and as a result of that convinced they do not deserve happiness, unwilling to take the risks it entails. Everyone around them tells Noah and Eve otherwise, and gradually they unveil their emotions, expose vulnerabilities and doubts, paradoxically growing stronger by doing so, becoming people we can care about and who are free to love each other. When, to use a trite phrase from tabloid advice columns, the inevitable happens it is a scene fraught with potential for calamity, a long series of stops and starts, of communicating at the most basic level, and totally realistic in the way it avoids the mawkishness and florid romanticism of the similar scene between Genny and Dallas in Barton’s novel. Noah and Eve are real people, not Mills & Boon prototypes, and it shows in the way they make love.
I Can See You is a fast paced read, a story packed with incident and real people, and it kept me engaged for the whole of its nearly five hundred pages. Recommended.