The Killer on the Wall by Emma Kavanagh – Review
By Karl Hornsey
Emma Kavanagh’s fourth novel follows in the same vein as her others, fitting neatly into the category of dark, psychological thrillers that seem to fill bookstores today, especially since the market has been flooded by those of a Nordic Noir persuasion. Therefore, standing out from the crowd can be difficult, and something special is needed to either produce enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, or in building characters of sufficient interest, either for standalone novels or series.
In The Killer on the Wall, Kavanagh does enough to satisfy both of these criteria. While many of the characters may not be overly engaging, and in some cases really quite irritating, the lead of forensic psychologist Isla Bell is suitably interesting and troubled to make me want to know more about her life and her past.
“Great sense of place”
After fewer than 50 pages I had already pigeon-holed this novel in my mind as perfect for the classic ITV Sunday evening 9pm slot. A northern-set drama, bleak in countryside as well as character, with plenty of short, sharp set-pieces which could easily be punctuated by advert breaks. That’s not a criticism nor a compliment, but shows that visualising the events of the novel was easy due to plenty of passages of detail and description, and of course with ‘The Wall’, a great sense of place is immediately presented.
What also shines through is the expertise of Kavanagh in her previous career as a police and military psychologist. Too often in crime novels there is a contrived feel when delving into the minutiae of investigations and psychology, but Kavanagh’s ability to put herself in Bell’s place purely by literally having been there and done that, is admirable.
I do think a trick was missed in not developing the character of Heath McGowan, imprisoned after being found guilty of being the eponymous ‘Killer on the Wall’, and interviewed at regular intervals in the course of the new investigation.
Without necessarily turning this relationship into something akin to Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, it could at least have been explored in greater depth and more made of McGowan’s mental state, both past and present.
Of course, the concluding 50 or so pages could lead anywhere and to the murders being the work of any of up to half a dozen different characters, but with a little sense of suspending belief and accepting some contrived plotting, there is still an enjoyable and satisfactory ending to be had.
‘The Killer on the Wall’ by Emma Kavanagh is published by Arrow