From page one, Shatter (2008) is in the mind of a disturbed and vengeful psychopath and it’s not long before we see the outcomes of his thinking. Professor Joseph O’Loughlin, coming to terms with Parkinson’s disease, finishes teaching a class in behavioural psychology at Bath University. Discussing the lesson with his boss the men are approached by police with a request that Joe’s boss deftly sidesteps. From here, Joe is dropped into something that will be terrifying for him, and I suggest, for some readers.
A woman in her forties, naked except for a pair of red Jimmy Choo shoes, holds a mobile phone to her ear, about to jump to her death from a bridge. Joe tries unsuccessfully to talk her off. It transpires that the woman has a sixteen-year-old daughter, Darcy, who turns up at the at O’Loughlin household a couple of days later. Darcy does her best to convince Joe that her mother wouldn’t have committed suicide – for one thing, she was terrified of heights, and another, Darcy knew her mother wouldn’t leave her alone.
As Joe tries to find the reason for Christine’s death, the police are sceptical that there’s anything more in the case than suicide. Joe ropes in a retired Detective who once suspected Joe of murdering a patient, but it seems the two men have put that behind them. Former DI Vincent Ruiz, is a necessary character in this book, not just for the humour Robotham injects into the story (the two men have become friends) but Joe takes on an investigatory role as he searches for the truth behind the mother’s death.
About Ruiz, Joe says, “Men who take too much care of themselves and their clothes can appear vain and over-ambitious but Ruiz had long ago stopped caring about what other people thought about him. He was like a big dark vague piece of furniture, smelling of tobacco and wet tweed.”
I thought to myself, ‘ah – Peter Temple lives on in another guise.’ (Temple, an Australian Rockstar of crime writing caused many people heart-felt sorrow when he died this year, and if that wasn’t bad enough, with an uncompleted manuscript).
And before people ‘get up in arms’ and complain about a psychologist becoming a policeman and the need to suspend disbelief, this is not a police procedural story. It’s a psychological thriller. Joe’s skills as a psychologist are to the fore but he does need some help. All protagonists need help, regardless of genre.
As is always the way with crime thrillers, things get progressively worse before they get better. While Joe applies his innate understanding of humans and communication skills to help others, at home, he is like the plumber whose house is full of leaking taps. He has a sense that his marriage is not what it should be, but at the same time, lacks the insight that his dedication to helping others might come at a cost.
Shatter (the title speaks to the theme of shattered minds, including the antagonist’s) is a taut, powerful psychological thriller that meets all the expectations of the genre and is brilliantly written – a style that appealed to me with descriptive power that captured place and time. “It’s eleven o’clock in the morning, late September, and outside it’s raining so hard that cows are floating down rivers and birds are resting on their bloated bodies.”
“I go to the bar, where half a dozen flushed and lumpy regulars fill the stools ….
I nod. They nod back. This passes as a long conversation in this part of Somerset.”
Robotham has crafted a story with a flawed character immersed in a plot that in equal parts, is both chilling and powerful. This is number 3 in the Joe O’Loughlin series, so I’ll be going back in time and in catch up mode before I read his latest acclaimed work. Highly-recommended.