#BlogTour- Fergus McNeill- Up Close and Fatal- @fergusmcneill @RandomTTours

It begins with a list of names – past and future victims. When struggling reporter Tom Pritchard receives it in the mail, he’s scared, though he knows this could be the story he needs to save his career. Especially if he can help the police to catch the killer. But this isn’t a typical murderer. This is someone patient and ruthless, someone who’s been planning for years. Soon, the tables are turned and Tom finds himself trapped on a terrifying road trip across the US, racing from victim to victim. His only hope of saving his family is to understand the killer but, to do that, he’ll need to be close. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that’s exactly where the killer wants him to be.

Fergus McNeill once again proves his versatility as a writer in Up Close and Fatal, tinkering extremely effectively indeed with the traditional tropes of the ‘serial killer thriller’. Instead of the potential victim finding themselves locked up in some creepy ass basement in a rural homestead, British journalist Tom Pritchard, embarks, under duress, on a macabre road trip in the company of a killer…

This had a brilliant central premise of teaming up a writer with a killer, putting me in mind of Silence Of The Lambs where a troubled individual has to strike up an uneasy rapport with a killer, endeavouring to work out how they tick, and what their main motivations are. As Tom is put in the unenviable position of being commissioned to truthfully depict the life and times of J, the multiple killer he is being held hostage to, we are wonderfully immersed in this battle of morality- Tom as a law abiding citizen, and J as a killer with a seemingly clear-sighted reason for his own murderous aims. Consequently, I found myself wavering between the two, as J exhibits at times moments of solicitous concern for Tom that arouse in the reader empathetic feelings which are difficult to rationalise when you know what crimes have been committed by J, previous to the two being so closely bound together. As Tom observes, “I know that he’s a brutal murderer- yet I still find it difficult to reconcile that with the man himself; articulate, courteous…even considerate”. This pull on the reader’s sensibilities works very effectively throughout, and as the story reaches its denouement, I found myself in two minds at how the situation resolves itself, having had a degree of sympathy aroused for the killer.

The characterisation is strong, and most importantly, plausible throughout, as McNeill’s depiction of J as a previously perfectly ‘normal’ citizen, is thrown into turmoil with the counterbalance of rationality and irrationality in his character, evident throughout the book. J says of himself, “I may be a killer, but at least I’m honest about what I am”. As well as the moments of concern for Tom previously alluded to, he is in possession of a dry wit which is the like the sun coming out on a grey day, and relieves some of the tension of the central plot. Finding themselves in one particular less salubrious location, J dryly observes that they should leave, “This is a rough neighbourhood and there are dangerous people around.” being one example of the moments of sardonic levity in the story.

One of the things I was struck by most, was how vivid and real McNeill makes the various locations that Tom and his killer companion J traverse in the course of the book. As they pass through a succession of states, the author homes in on particular features of the landscape, the climate and so on, so each location is incredibly recognisable to the reader at every turn. This not only adds to the credibility of the book, but as they journey on, adds to the underlying tension of the book as he captures the vast expanses of land and the feelings of isolation and helplessness they instil in Tom.

As much as I hate alluding to plot twists, there are a couple of absolute winners in this one, and as you read past them, you will be looking back and thinking, jeez they were good, and will leave you pondering the close of the book in particular for a good while after. I found this immensely satisfying, and taken overall with the characterisation, plot and superb depiction of the road trip landscape, Up Close and Fatal, proved a compelling and exciting thriller, that I thoroughly enjoyed. Recommended.

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As well as writing crime novels, Fergus McNeill has been creating computer games since the early eighties, writing his first interactive fiction titles while still at school. Over the years he has designed, directed and illustrated all sorts of games, spoken at the Cannes Film Festival, and failed to excel at any sport whatsoever. He wishes he could cook. Fergus lives in Hampshire with his wife and their enormous cat. He is the author of the Detective Harland series (EYE CONTACT, KNIFE EDGE and CUT OUT, plus the short novella BROKEN FALL) and the historical thriller ASHES OF AMERICA. You can read his blog at http://www.fergusmcneill.co.uk, like his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/fergusmcneillauthor or follow him on Twitter @fergusmcneill

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

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