Headhunter – Michael Slade

Some books are initially deceptive, and deliberately don’t give you much in the way of clues to their contents from their title, cover or blurb on the back. Others are completely up front about what you will find within their pages. With a title like Headhunter, and a cover showing a severed head on a spike, this one falls firmly into the second category, and it’s not too hard to work out that this book is going to be a little bit gruesome.

Set in Vancouver and benefiting from featuring the Mounties (or Royal Canadian Mounted Police to be precise) instead of a generic American police force, Headhunter is a classic crime thriller, with a clever plot and plenty of twists and turns. The titular baddie blazes a trail of gory murders across the city, identified by (unsurprisingly) the headless bodies left behind, and it’s up to the Mounties to get to the bottom of things before the city can completely fall to panic and despair. Heading up the campaign is Robert DeClercq, brought out of retirement and semi-disgrace, struggling with the dual burdens of the investigation and his ever-present guilt over the deaths of his wife and daughter.

The book starts slowly, moving through a series of slightly disturbing set-pieces which don’t seem to tie together at all. Take it on faith that things will start to make sense however, and the pace soon starts to pick up as the main plot threads and characters are introduced. Before long we’re embroiled in a tangled story of sex, drugs, death and black magic that whistles along and continuously ramps up the tension. At times it’s pretty unsettling stuff, and some scenes are genuinely not suitable for the squeamish or faint of heart. There’s nothing gratuitous, but everything is described clearly and openly, so there’s no hiding from it.

As long as you can handle the more unpleasant parts, what you get is a gripping, well-plotted story full of interesting psychological complications, plenty of investigative and procedural elements and a smattering of effective, exciting action scenes. The usual twists and turns are there aplenty, and while the pacing slips up once or twice, especially in the last act set-up, for the most part this is the kind of book that once it’s got you hooked will keep you riveted and engaged right up to the end.

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