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.

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.