Will Carver – Good Samaritans (2018)

Preamble

As I read and write and think a lot about detective and crime fiction, I’m starting to put together quick, bite-size reviews of the books in these genres. Sadly, capacity is too limited to cover all the films and TV series I watch too, but these might be added in the future.

The ‘see also’ section below gives you a hint of the story, its themes, and its style, and is spoiler-free, but reviews themselves aren’t guaranteed to be thus!

If you’re interested in reading my academic work about detective and crime fiction (free PDFs available), check it out here.

A wooden puppet held in someone’s closed fist. Image by Marco Bianchetti from Unsplash.

See also

These lists capture other detective/crime stories and characters that I thought of as I was reading this piece. I won’t explain why, to avoid spoilers, but they’re associations and not ‘if you liked this, then you’ll love…’ recommendations!

  • The Fall (TV Series)
  • ‘Cold Comfort’ episode of Inside No. 9 (TV series)
  • My Sister the Serial Killer
  • The Mothers (novel by Sarah J Naughton, not Brit Bennett)
  • Lucy Foley’s novelistic style
  • Crash (the Cronenberg film, not the Haggis)

Review (4 out of 5)

One thing I love most about this genre is its ready accessibility in all libraries, from physical ‘New Release’ shelves through to collections of classics on the Libby app. That’s where I found Will Carver’s Good Samaritans. Its zazzy yellow cover with a dangling wooden puppet is eye-catching, and the two front quotes promise “crime thriller and domestic noir” and “darker than Fight Club“, so okay!

I haven’t read any of Will Carver’s novels before, but he has two series of crime/mystery novels, and this book is the first in the Detective Sergeant Pace series. Genre-wise, the book is definitely crime rather than detective fiction, though. In fact, I was ambivalent about the detective’s inclusion at all.

Good Samaritans follows a set of characters – murders, victims, investigators, and witnesses – through the week leading up to a specific murder and the week thereafter. We alternate perspectives and first- and third-person narration as we move chronologically through the weeks, with shared pre-occupations and neuroses binding the characters beyond their factual interactions in the world. Carver’s plotting allows us plenty of suspense about who dies, when, how, and at whose hands, as all of our characters are desperate for connection and (to a greater or lesser degree) repulsed by themselves. The artificial constraint of following a week either side of a murder means that there is a nice build up of tension to the central death, but a little bit of a rush afterwards to wrap up the plot and rebuild to the final conclusion.

I found the characters’ fixation on wanting to talk more compelling and interesting than the other shared fixation Carver gives them, on cleanliness and feelings of being dirty. This latter underpins the promise on the cover – ‘One crossed wire, three dead bodies, six bottles of bleach’ – but as descriptors of the heart of the novel, they’re a bit misleading (there are more than three dead bodies, for one thing!).

This muddled focus contributed to my ambivalence about DS Pace as he appears in the novel. On the one hand, it seems necessary to have him given that there are multiple murders to solve, and he introduces some element of pressure. His presence (and poor policing efforts) also assist with some of the parallelism in the novel, foreshadowing a second potentially destructive relationship between a killer and an investigator. Otherwise, Maeve’s character cannot really connect to the rest of the cast. However, a tauter and less thematically laboured book could have been produced by leaving him out, or introducing him only at the very end.

Those little niggles aside, Carver does interesting things with some of the typical materials of the genre – a tortured detective, multiple dead women left in fields, and small but disastrous nudges that unhinge precarious people – so Good Samaritans is certainly worth a read!


Aside – In a British-set crime fiction piece, you shouldn’t really call a detective ‘Pace’ without having some intention of including some police misconduct! (The PACE Act 1984 governs police powers.) We get a tiny smidgen of that here, and maybe this is a theme for later novels, but it would be such a fantastic little niche reference, it’s a shame to see it go wasted.


Will Carver’s Good Samaritans was Book 46 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.

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