Welcome to day four of the Normal blog tour to mark the release of Graeme Cameron’s darkly witty and quirky serial killer thriller. Written in the first person, Normal is narrated by an unnamed man- a man who happens to take great pleasure, at first, in the torture and murder of young women. With his latest victim, Sarah, swiftly despatched and ready to be disposed of, his murderous plan is intruded on by the victim’s friend, Erica, who he is forced to abduct and keep imprisoned in his exceedingly well- constructed basement (used on previous occasions) whilst deciding her fate. And here the fun begins, as our killer beginning to question his own twisted inclinations, comes to realise that Erica may not be such a passive victim in the face of this particular killer…
I will quickly draw a veil over the unavoidable comparisons to Jeff Lindsay’s hugely successful Dexter series, as Normal felt so singularly British. Our killer displays a wonderfully blunt, down-to-earth and self-deprecating humour, that brought more than a few wry smiles to this reader’s lips. Indeed, such is the understated hilarity of certain vulgar observations he makes, that I found myself re-reading certain deadpan remarks, and thinking, “crikey, he really did say that!”. Cameron lightly probes the whole tenet of nature vs nurture in the killer’s mind but, as he tussles with the immorality inherent in his mental and genetic make-up, he actually comes across as rather a nice chap, which perhaps explains his ability to embark on a friendship outside of his killing impulses, with the slightly unhinged Annie. He even undertakes a romantic liaiason with Rachel, who offers some semblance of stability in his psyche, even if he does confuse her at times with a previous victim. Some reviewers have questioned this sea change in his character, and, yes, it does feel a little strange in the overall narrative. To go from a natural born killer to a man so seemingly desperate to establish a firm emotional connection with Rachel did rather hinder the final third of the book, but perhaps to be generous to the author, he was really making this a journey for the killer from his twisted normality, to his acceptance as being normal in the traditional sense of the word. I would like to think so anyway.
I tell you what else was incredibly refreshing, and set this apart from the routine serial killer fare, and that was Cameron’s portrayal of his female protagonists. I would cite the erratic Erica, eccentric Annie and feisty female detective Ali Green as the notable stand-outs. Each contribute significantly to the plot, and are central to the unravelling of our killer as the plot progresses. I think Cameron achieves a difficult balance between the inevitability of depicting violence towards women that our killer has previously engaged in, and his gauche attitude to despatching them off this mortal coil, but this is assuredly counterbalanced by the strength Cameron imbues in these three female characters. Chief among these is Erica who is a complete gem, with her potty mouth, arrogant attitude and proclivity for violence. I loved Cameron’s presentation of her disharmonious almost marital role in our killer’s life, and the moments of sheer entertainment that arose from this. Nicely done.
All in all, I really quite enjoyed this debut with its wry humour, over the top violence, and the way that Cameron continually plays with the reader’s perceptions of his characters and their actions. It made me laugh, kept me hooked, and despite the slight weakness of the final denouement , I would be happy to recommend this as a quirky thriller, and definitely way, way, outside the normal!
Graeme Cameron lives in Norfolk, England. He has never worked as a police detective, ER doctor, crime reporter or forensic anthropologist. Visit his website here
Don’t forget to follow the tour tomorrow at Rebecca Bradley Crime and Shotsmag