Book review: The Helper by David Jackson

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In the murky realms of murder fiction, serial killers come and go ... but some remain indelibly in the mind long after the last page has turned.

Who could forget deranged American Psycho Patrick Bateman, the manic architect of destruction Hannibal Lector and the ‘daddy’ of them all, madder-than-mad motel owner Psycho Norman Bates?

Wirral-based David Jackson, whose debut thriller Pariah caused a real stir in the publishing world, has played a trump card with his latest serial killer, The Helper, a sort of Good Samaritan turned psychotic master of slaughter.

Pariah was a hard act to follow but The Helper is a real crime cracker ...an unforgettable killer pursued relentlessly by a New York cop with a nose for trouble and a penchant for mordant humour.

Reluctant NYPD Detective Second Grade Callum Doyle is developing into an entertainingly off-kilter but likeable character, the sort you can meet up with time and time again without ever tiring of his sarcasm, wit, ingenuity and intelligence.

A relative newcomer to the homicide department, he’s currently persona non grata with colleagues after becoming the hero of a case which saw the death of fellow officers.

Tainted by his association, Doyle, an Irish immigrant who is still prickly about his heritage, is trying to stay below the radar but when a part-time student is brutally murdered while working in a shabby New York bookshop, he can’t help but get involved.

The dead woman, 20-year-old Cindy Mellish, has a seemingly meaningless number written on her arm, probably by the killer. But this is no made-up string of figures, it’s the code for Ireland alongside Doyle’s home phone number.

That same night, he receives a call from the sinister killer ... ‘I can help you, Cal. I can help you solve the murder,’ he says.

‘The Helper’ also reveals more deaths are planned but that he will give him clues on condition he keeps them to himself.

And so begins Doyle’s dilemma. If he turns down the offer he will have nothing to go on but if he accepts and gets it wrong, he will have concealed knowledge that could have stopped a killer.

As more deaths follow, increasingly vicious and apparently random, the pressure on Doyle to find a link becomes unbearable. Does he continue to gamble with people’s lives, including his own family, or must he sacrifice everything to defeat a ruthless and manipulative enemy?

The Helper is a masterful piece of crime fiction, a fast-paced and unpredictable game of cat-and-mouse in which Doyle must use all his guile to track down a clever and sadistic murderer with a warped sense of his own worth.

The big screen beckons a brilliant double act...

(Macmillan, paperback, £12.99)