This is the second book that I’ve read by John Nicholl. I really enjoyed his first novel, “White is the Coldest Colour”. The subject matter was difficult to read about but I felt like it was an important book that helped reinforce how careful we should be about who we trust, especially when it comes to those who are interacting with our children. The author previously worked in law enforcement and as a social worker so some of the book was based on things he had experienced in his career.
I haven’t yet read the second book in the series. But when I came across “Portraits of the Dead”, I thought it sounded like another good read involving a different kind of predator.
The book opens in 1998 in West Wales. Nineteen year old, Emma Jones awakens to what she hopes is an illusion. But the man coming towards her is not a figment of her imagination but a real life monster. A sadistic murderer who has already killed at least 5 other women. When she wakes again, she’s not sure where she is, but she’s badly beaten and terrified. She searches the windowless room, trying to find a way out. On the walls are large black and white portraits of barely dressed girls….and they all look just like her.
She notices a video camera in the corner of the room. It’s aimed right at her. Just as she wonders who’s watching her she’s jarred by a loud voice that fills the room…
“Welcome to your new home, my lovely. I hope you find the accommodation satisfactory.”
The voice tells her he will refer to her as Venus Six. When she tries to correct him, to tell him her real name, he plunges the room into darkness playing a loud tape of women screaming. When he finally stops the tape he tells her again that her name is Venus and that Emma no longer exists. He tells her that she will pay a heavy price if she does not obey his every command. Emma decides her best course of action is to obey him and hope that she can find a way to escape. But this monster has so much more in store for his Venus, and he has no intention of letting her go.
At first, Detective Inspector Gravel isn’t all that concerned when Anne Jones comes to his office to report that her nineteen-year-old daughter, Emma is missing. DI Gravel assumes that her daughter is probably with friends, sleeping after a night of partying. Mrs. Jones tells him that Emma is very dependable and that she has missed the deadline for an important essay due that morning. She would never jeopardize her future by missing that deadline. Something must have happened to her.
DI Gravel assures her that he will look into what has happened her daughter. But how long can Emma survive this madman’s torture and depravity. Will she be able to hang on long enough to be rescued or to escape? Or will her captor tire of her and dispose of her before she gets that chance?
This was a compelling and VERY intense read. I did have a bit of a hard time with some of the dark and disturbing descriptions, but I could not stop reading. I had to know what was going to happen to Emma. The characters were well developed, especially Emma and her captor. I also liked the fact that DI Gravel and DS Clive Rankin were back from the previous novels. The story was gripping and suspenseful, though I found some parts dragged on a bit. I realize we sometimes have to suspend disbelief when reading fiction, but there were a few things that just didn’t sit right with me.
All of that said, I did enjoy this novel, and I REALLY liked how it wrapped up. Normally I’m not a fan of cliff-hangers but I have to say I especially liked the twist at the end ….. I honestly did not see that ending coming.
I am definitely looking forward to reading more from John Nicholl