Will Carver – Psychopaths Anonymous (2021)

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.


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!

  • Fight Club
  • My Sister the Serial Killer
  • Dexter

Review (5 out of 5)

It was a pleasure to return to Maeve, the emergent anti-heroine of Carver’s previous novel, Good Samaritans (or, as I keep imagining it is called, probably subliminaly influenced by the Six Stories series, Six Bottles!). One of the cunning elements of this book is that we are surprisingly far through it before we learn whether it is a prequel or a sequel to Good Samaritans. If you had no idea about the existence of GS, you could still enjoy this book, but it is a much more interesting read afterwards.

The Fight Club elements of this story are much more prominent than its prequel, although the film is referenced explicitly in the latter’s blurbs, and that was in fact one of the things that I found a bit baffling about how Good Samaritans was presented (and perhaps part of why I ended up giving it only four stars). I think it works not only narratively but as a useful structuring device, through which Carver can develop Maeve’s character anew by following her, at least initially, through Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step programme.

Good Samaritans saw Maeve take up Seth’s method of finding murder victims from a pool of strangers, and Psychopaths Anonymous offers an alternative hunting ground of quasi-strangers. There is an ironic element of Old Testament justice in how Maeve constructs her ‘hit list’, named her ‘make amends’ list, despite the fact that the religiosity of AA rankles for her.

The book is relatively slow in creating the group for which it is named—Maeve’s Psychopaths Anonymous—group, posturing across the hall from one of the AA meetings she used to attend, but also doing something real for its attendees. The other members of the group are interesting and vary enough, despite their anonymity, that we get a glimpse of them as real and, largely, functioning members of society. The group quickly spins out into a genuine community and then disintegrates again, with Maeve wishing to free herself of it in order to pursue romantic interests and another member, Eames, disappearing from it in order to protect its membership from the police tracking him.

I find the inclusion of the police/crime-solving element of the novel much more successful than in Good Samaritans, where I think it needed to be either more or less prominent. The police exist as an underlying threat to both Maeve—investigating the disappearance of her sponsor, Gary—and to her group—investigating the murders of attendee Eames. I don’t know either of Carver’s detectives (January David or DS Pace) to understand fully the references to them that might be encoded in the police’s occasional appearances here, but I appreciated their near absence, as largely, this novel feels like a character piece.


Will Carvers’ Psychopaths Anonymous was Book 54 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.

Lynn Shepherd – Murder at Mansfield Park (2010)

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.


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!

  • Death Comes to Pemberley
  • Her Father’s Name
  • Mansfield Park (of course!)
  • Can You Forgive Her?

Review (5 out of 5)

First, a confession. I am not a great Austen fan. I have read a few of the big names, but not Mansfield Park, from which Shepherd takes her inspiration. Fortunately, however, Shepherd is skilled enough that even the ill-informed reader (like me) cannot get lost, which can often be the case with works that rely on the canon for their premise. I appreciated that care for the breadth of audience.

Shepherd does a wonderful job of retaining Austen’s keen eye for the economic details of upper-class family life and the mechanics of these relationships. Modern readers often manage to miss the importance of these elements in Austen, and the acuity with which the material truths of women’s lives in the early-nineteenth century were drawn, so Shepherd has to work to maintain the subtlety of Austen-as-read-now in a modern version. Economics thus remains a quiet engine of plot, as in Austen’s novels.

The murder mystery at the heart of the story stops just shy of being too modern; a woman dead in the mud, stumbled over, sans wallet, feels very Law and Order: SVU. But it just about fits, and would not of course be out of place in a penny dreadful! The adjacent mysteries are more in keeping with our sense of C19 sensibilities, with poisoning and lunacy looming large, and the plot creeping closer to the genre of Sensation fiction as it progresses.

Perhaps because of that, and my own ignorance of the original’s specifics, I had all sorts of wild thoughts about the possible twists and turns. Might Mary and her brother turn out to be a fiendish married couple in disguise? Might we see an unwitting criminal, à la The Moonstone? But ultimately the novel stays true to the spirit of Austen’s conclusion, with everyone who remains learning a little about (romantic and familial) love and its follies and becoming a little sadder and wiser.


Lynn Shepherd’s Murder at Mansfield Park was Book 42 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.