Try to imagine this: a madman breaks into your home and holds you and your spouse hostage. He tortures you both for hours while also trying to break your spirits and love for each other by tormenting each of you with the dark, hidden secrets or your relationship. When he has you wounded and weakened, he then gives one of you the choice: Should I kill you or your spouse. Only one of you can survive.
It's impossible not to read Steve Mosby's dark, pyschological thriller The 50/50 Killer without asking yourself the question: would I be brave enough to die to save the woman I love? I hope so, but who the hell really knows how we behave confronted with such extreme circumstances.
This is a mesmering premise for a thriller as it instantly engages the reader's emotions and drags them right into the story. This sense is compounded by unspecified Anytown location of the drama. While the structure of the police team investigating the crimes suggests we are in a city somewhere in Britain - Mosby himself is from Leeds - there are few clues as to where it is. Later in the piece one of the characters describes a forest north of the city leading to the mountains where there may even be "separatists" living in isolation.
This lack of identifiable setting adds to the unsettling nature of the story, as if Mosby is deliberately creating a nightmare-scape dark fairy tale backdrop to his horror story.
The disruption of normalcy is extended by the novel's multi-viewpoint character. It simply refuses to settle down into a comfortable narrative, instead pulling the reader this way and that throughout, right up to a series of utterly unpredictable twists and turns that propel us towards the conclusion.
The 50/50 Killer will not be for everyone. It is too unconventional and probably too unsettling to appeal to a mass mainstream audience, but those who like a story that is as black as the devil's soul and who enjoy being challenged by their mysteries will love it. The book reminds me a little of the novels of Boston Teran, who specialised in stripping human beings down to their Hobbesian souls.
Mosby is clearly a writer with complete command. A complex, somewhat fragmented story is drawn together with great skill and certainty and his uncompromising, unsentimental approach to characterisation suits the novel perfectly. He has challenged himself also with a story that takes place over just 24 hours and therefore gives itself no room to slow down.
The story essentially follows the first day on the job of Mark Nelson, a youngish detective nervously transferring to the staff of a celebrated older peer. Even as he arrives at his new desk, his colleagues have already been called to a crime scene where the discovery of a male corpse amid evidence that suggests a link with a series of unsolved crimes from two years back that cost Nelson's new boss his closest colleague, his peace of mind and almost his career.
This is a terrific addition to the canon of crime fiction and hails Mosby as a writer of terrific, if terrifying, ability.
The 50/50 Killer will be published by Orion on April 19.