I think this might be the year I finally catch up on all the books that slipped by me during the pandemic lockdown(s). A few weeks ago, it was The Secrets Of Strangers, and now it’s The Nothing Man. Corvus Books (and Allen & Unwin) sent me this one towards the end of 2020 – better late than never, right?
This one didn’t really catch my eye until I read – and loved! – 56 Days. That book made Catherine Ryan Howard an automatic-buy author for me, and luckily I already had The Nothing Man on the to-read shelf.
It turns out it’s got a cracker of a premise. The Nothing Man is the moniker given to the man who assaulted and murdered a series of people in the early 2000s, in their Cork homes. They called him that because the Gardaí had “nothing” on him. This isn’t a whodunnit, though. You know from the very first chapter that Jim is The Nothing Man.
Nowadays, Jim is working as a security guard in a supermarket. When the story begins, he’s just learned that a book has come out about his (as yet unsolved) crimes – he spots a woman purchasing a copy from a display at his work. It’s a memoir by the sole survivor of The Nothing Man’s last attack. At just twelve years old, Eve Black suffered the loss of her entire family at his hands, and now she’s writing a book about her experience, in the hopes of gathering new information to crack the case.
So, we’ve got a book-within-a-book situation in The Nothing Man. It’s a really clever way of having the two perspectives play out: Eve’s search for her family’s killer, and Jim’s present-day life as an undetected “former” serial killer. The chapters alternate between extracts from Eve’s book, and Jim’s reactions as he reads them. He quickly realises how close she is to stumbling onto the truth of his identity, and he feels backed into a corner. He’s going to have to find a way to thwart her before his facade is broken down.
The Nothing Man is a very creepy, very detailed crime novel. You should know before you pick it up (trigger warning time!) that it contains graphic descriptions of violent sexual crime, and twisted psychological games – and one particularly horrible instance of cruelty towards a dog 🙁
That said, it’s so well-written and propulsive, it’s difficult to put down – even when it turns your stomach. Howard masterfully balanced Jim and Eve’s perspectives, giving the “victim” just as strong a voice and an active role in what unfolds (something all-too-often missing from crime thrillers, with passive dead girls left voiceless in the narrative).
Plus, The Nothing Man culminates in a satisfying ending that seems, granted, a little unrealistic – but not overwrought or overdone.
This is the perfect fiction book for fans of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. Howard even cites that specific book as inspiration in the Acknowledgements for The Nothing Man. If you’re looking for a book to give a true crime aficionado – or if you’re one yourself, looking to try something different – this is the one to go with. Catherine Ryan Howard remains a must-read author for me!
My favourite Amazon reviews of The Nothing Man:
- “I was truly scared to read more, but was too anxious to stop!” – Teresa C
- “I am Irish and I tend to steer clear of books set in Ireland like the plague because they are more often than not leprechaun inducing hokum. I bought this book because it kept popping up in my recommendations – I confess I had never heard of the Author and didn’t realise that the book was set in Ireland. When I finally got around to reading it, the penny soon dropped and I will admit my heart sank. What was ahead? Donkeys carrying turf around a bog? Twenty chapters of people roaring drunk in pubs? Would everyone be dressed in flatcaps and Aran jumpers?
What followed was one of the most original thrillers I have ever read and frankly could have been set anywhere in the world. What a refreshing change!” – Nicci
- “I tend to read in bed before going to sleep. Not a good idea with this book” – ET1959
- “The author writes very fluently, drawing you in to the story and making you feel engaged with the characters. I didn’t empathise strongly with the mass murdering psychopath to be fair but that’s probably a good thing.” – NeilS