All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

on May 26, 2015

NormalNormal
Graeme Cameron
Harlequin MIRA
2015, 300p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Somewhere in an English village, there lives a man. He has a lovely house with a detached garage, he drives a white van. He appears to be utterly normal in every way. Until you look a little closer. Under the garage is a reinforced room, with a cage. In the transit van are bolts and harnesses. This man enjoys taking people, taking women, and keeping them in the cage in the room under the garage until it’s time to play a game.

He’s not a monster though. He feeds them. He takes care of them. And if they win the game, they can go home, he promises.

Then the man meets a girl that’s different from all of the others. A girl that might be so special that he doesn’t want to hurt her, or anyone else anymore. The timing is unfortunate, because he still has a girl held in the special room beneath the garage and that girl is starting to play a game of her own. The net is closing in, the police are sniffing around, questioning him about other disappearances. It’s all starting to fall apart at the time he needs it to look perfect the most.

I saw this on NetGalley and the premise really intrigued me. I’ve read one or two books before with the point of view of the serial killer but I’m not sure I’ve read a book where the entire story is from that point of view,  the one who would normally be the antagonist of a story. The novel doesn’t particularly hold back in painting the picture of what the unnamed protagonist does with his victims but it’s more suggestive rather than deeply descriptive. There are glimpses into his past and he gives a bold statement to the why:

“I was born and not made. A product of nature, and nurture be damned.”

Our unnamed man is in the middle of….disposing of his latest victim when he is interrupted by one of her friends. He takes her back to his home in order to have some fun with her later. He puts her in the cage in the room built specifically beneath his garage and when she won’t eat, goes out to shop specifically for the sorts of foods he believes she likes. It is there he meets a cashier at the 24 hour grocery store and he is instantly captivated.

For the first time, he feels interested in something more than kidnapping and killing. He wants to spend more time with the cashier and they do begin a relationship of sorts, complicated by the fact that he likes killing people as a past time and still indulges occasionally, despite the fact that he doesn’t get the same satisfaction anymore. There’s also the girl in his basement, who might’ve turned the tables on him as well as a couple of detectives who are investigating the disappearance of a local prostitute and have zeroed in on him due to his white van, similar to one seen on a CCTV near where the woman went missing. Each of these wouldn’t present a problem to him on their own probably but the fact that they’re all occurring at the one time he seems to want to ‘go clean’ so to speak, means that he’s going to have to take desperate measures to make the police go away. Then he has to decide what to do with the girl in his basement, the one who was not exactly as she seemed and may have homicidal tendencies of her own.

As the name of the book suggests, the main character is disturbing because of his normality. He has a nice, average looking house. He’s not prone to flashes of extreme temper or savage violence because he ‘loses it’. He’s calm. Measured. For most of the book, he’s unflappable, even when facing the possibility of discovery. His brain is always thinking, he’s always plotting his next move should he be discovered. In some ways, he’s probably just like a thousand people you’ve met before. I’m sure the cashier probably felt that way! But then you see what happens when he takes a girl out of the cage and you get reminded, rather savagely that he’s not in any way normal at all. That he’s a deeply disturbed psychopath who is perhaps all the more dangerous because of his giving of false hope, his gentle assurances that it’s ‘just a game’. He’s someone who comes across as one thing but underneath, is something else entirely.

I actually enjoyed this a little bit more than I expected to. The twist with the girl in the basement intrigued me and I was curious to see where that would go. I actually wish it’d gone on a bit longer than it did, but I think that the way in which the book played out worked. I wasn’t exactly sure how he paid for all these fancy basement reinforced rooms because although he mentions going to work, the reader doesn’t seem to see it or know what he does. My only criticism is that the narrative feels very detached. We’re supposed to be inside the killer’s head and I’m not sure if it’s trying to portray his utter lack of feeling and empathy toward his victims but even in the scenes with the cashier he comes to care for, it feels distant and vague. Like it’s talking about someone else, not him, not his feelings. I thought the point of writing from the point of view of the killer would be to get deep inside their head but this one only really scratches the surface. Maybe that’s because there’s nothing deeper, that there’s just killing because it’s fun and everything else be damned. But it did leave me wondering.

7/10

Book #96 of 2015

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2 responses to “Review: Normal by Graeme Cameron

  1. Deborah says:

    Oh, great review. I wonder if the detachment is done on purpose?

    • It definitely could be, which I understand in relation to his victims. But it does tend to extend to the girl he meets as well, the one that makes him want to stop and it does make it hard to really understand his feelings – what they are, the depth of them, etc. The whole narrative feels very even, like there’s no real difference from a random victim to this girl that is supposed to be so special, if you know what I mean.

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