If Steve Mosby had a motto, it might be "Making You Think". His last novel, The 50/50 Killer, he set readers the agonising conundrum of exactly how they would react if they were forced to make the choice between their own life and that of their partner.
In Cry For Help, a book that confirms Mosby's status as a crime writer of great ability and originality, he changes tack slightly, exploring the idea of the responsibility we have for the health, welfare and happiness of friends, colleagues and family.
It's a very modern question. We live in an increasingly mobile, fragmented and, many would say, selfish society. Rather than living in communities, as we might have done 50 years ago, with families on the doorsteps and knowing a great many of our neighbours, life in this decade is more likely to be characterised by us living in isolation from family and unknown to those around us.
In recent years we've probably become even more detached, eschewing even telephone conversations in favour of briefer, less personal forms of communication: text, email, IM, even Facebook.
And so you might have heard from your best friend five or six times this week and feel you know what they're up to. That they're OK. But you probably haven't spoken to them. So while you assume all is well, if you think about it clearly, they may not. Someone may have that phone, access to that e-mail account.
This is the situation confronting Detective Sam Currie, who investigates the deaths of women who have been left to die of thirst alone, while their friends have been reassured they are OK using texts and emails.
And as Currie's investigation develops, revealing the existence of particularly cruel, manipulative and sadistic killer, the theme of responsibility abounds. Both Currie, and the book's second central character, Dave Ellis, a journalist and magician linked to one of the missing girls, are haunted by events in their past, moments when they might have done more to help someone important in their life. Ellis is driven not to repeat earlier mistakes and consequently is dragged into the killer's deadly game when a vulernable former girlfriend appears to go missing.
Cry for Help is a multi-threaded book, following several different characters, one of them, Ellis, in the first person, others in the third. Handled badly, this could have been a distraction, but actually works to the benefit of a book, which spends so much time examining personal conscience as the decisions that Ellis is forced to make are life or death choices for others.
The story is clever, but not so clever it ever feels contrived, and the narrative well paced from a good set-up that traps the reader to a gripping and violent climax. And what is apparent throughout is the Mosby can really write. His characters are rounded, convincing and humanly flawed. His dialogue is right out of the top drawer. Characters in some books sound as if their speech has been written with the moment in mind where they are being spoken on a set in Hollywood by Bruce Willis or Matt Damon. Not so here. The characters sound and behave like real people. And that might sound simple, but if it was then more people would be able to do it.
Cry for Help is a first rate thriller, compelling and thought-provoking. While it is a dark book, occupying some of the less hospitable corners of the human psyche, it's not quite the twisted fairy tale / horror story that The 50/50 Killer is, and should prove more mainstream than that book, because as good is as it was, it didn't earn Mosby the audience he deserved.
Here's hoping Cry for Help does.
Cry for Help will be published by Orion Books in May.