Three women have been found brutally murdered in south London, the victims only feet away from help during each sadistic attack. And the killer is getting braver. Sarah Grainger is rapidly becoming too afraid to leave her house. Once an outgoing photographer, she knows that someone is watching her. A cryptic note brings everything into terrifying focus, but it’s the chilling phone calls that take the case to another level. DI Mike Lockyer heads up the regional murder squad. With three bodies on his watch, and a killer growing in confidence, he frantically tries to find the link between these seemingly isolated incidents. What he discovers will not only test him professionally but will throw his personal life into turmoil too.

I must admit that on receiving this book to read and review, there was a slight sinking in my heart when I saw the well-worn comparisons to Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson and Peter James. However, never one to be deterred by publicity blurb,  I dove in to this debut crime novel with an open mind and was more than pleasantly surprised by what lay within…

From the outset you are plunged into a nightmarish insinuation that this killer has more than a passing resemblance to the resident weirdo killer in The Silence of the Lambs. Crafting his magnum opus in his spare room, that you just know is going to be constructed out of items accrued from his crime scenes. Cut to young woman being violently attacked on a London street and its aftermath, quickly introducing us to the main police protagonists, and straightaway Donoghue has raised the reader’s interest simply and succinctly. This is what you want from a British police procedural- straight in- boom- so loved that. Then, the story spirals out encompassing the miserable day-to-day existence of a previously vivacious woman and her nightmare experience at the hands of a stalker. Donoghue captures perfectly the claustrophobic dread of Sarah’s life from her waking moment under the microscope of her stalker’s eye, and this is very well depicted within the plot. Inevitably, all the facets of the plot intersect nicely, as Sarah’s cries for help are eventually answered by the intervention of DI Mike Lockyer and DS Jane Bennett as her stalker enters their radar, in the course of their murder investigation…

I did like the tight control that Donoghue kept on the pace and gradual unfolding of the plot, never resorting to implausible coincidence and keeping the tension high. I was slightly less sure of the development of the relationship between Lockyer and Sarah, and did raise my eyes to the heavens a little as this came to light, but both characters, carrying their own emotional baggage, were empathetic enough, and this did help overcome the slightly hackneyed nature of their personal interactions. Overall, the characterisation was very good, and Lockyer makes for a good central police character, with more importantly further room for development. He displays all of the central tenets needed by a leading character, and though not quite as charismatic as DI Tom Thorne  from Mark Billingham, there are definitely sparks of interest.  I’m also hoping that in any future books DS Jane Bennett has a greater part to play as I think she could well be a character to take more of a role from this initial encounter with her.

So to sum up, a more than satisfactory debut of another player in the British police procedural genre. Despite my minor quibble with one aspect of the plot, I would be more than happy to pick up another in the series, and always nice to encounter a new author. Promising stuff.

After ten years in London, working for a City law firm, Clare Donoghue moved back to her home town in Somerset to undertake an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University. The Watcher is her first novel and in 2011, whilst still an unpublished manuscript, was long-listed for the CWA Debut Dagger. Follow on Twitter @claredonoghue

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

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