Author: D.L. Johnstone
Format: E-Book (PDF)
Published by: Self-published
Date published: 2012
Length: 363 pages
Genres: Thriller, Crime, Mystery, Detective, Adult Fiction, Self-published, E-Book
The Synopsis: In a remote mountain valley in British Columbia, a human monster preys on innocent lives. After teenagers discover the body of a missing girl in Chalk Valley, searchers find the remains of two more victims secreted deep in the woods. A serial killer is at work. Chalk Valley police detective John McCarty is picked to lead a task force to find the murderer but inexperience, politics and McCarty’s own inner demons quickly overwhelm him and the investigation falters. Meanwhile, on a dark, lonely highway many miles from Chalk Valley, RCMP Sergeant Dave Kreaver comes across a van crashed at the side of the road. The driver is anxious to leave the scene but Kreaver discovers an unconscious teenaged girl in the van. Kreaver feels in his gut that the driver could be the serial killer everyone’s looking for, but his inquiries are ignored. The task force is in well over its head, buried by thousands of leads and potential suspects. His supervisors tell him to back off and let the task force do its job. Kreaver is in a deadly cat and mouse game with a murderous psychopath, a race against time with innocent victims in play. Operating alone and without official sanction, can he stop the Chalk Valley Killer before he claims more lives?
Plot & Pace - D.L. Johnstone impresses with his tantalising and absorbing debut; a great thriller that is easily read in one sitting.
"He wondered for the hundred and first time if he had arrested the Chalk Valley Killer, caught him dead to rights, and was loosing him to the system..."
The opening begins with the gruesome discovery of the remains of a young woman, in the dense and remote forest in Chalk Valley, British Columbia. Detective John McCarty, leading the investigation, soon finds a triple homicide on his hands when further remains of two young women, Roberta King and Chrissa Dove, are discovered in the undergrowth of the forest.
Within another administrative boundary of British Columbia, Baywater, Sergeant Dave Kreaver, by chance is involved in a late night crash on his way home from work. The white van is shaken, but none more so than the drugged-up, partially conscious girl lying in the back. Poor Police tactics, as displayed elsewhere in the novel, mean the key suspect at first flees the scene just as a rape kit is discovered in the boot of the car.
McCarty's and Kreaver's case build over the course of the first part of the book. Analysis of the three women's remains indicate their final hours were not at all pleasant; violence, rape and murder by a highly methodical and intelligent killer that leaves little, if any evidence at the scene. And Kreaver isn't having much success either. The suspect, Phil Lindsay is intelligent and confident, so eerily in fact, it seems as though he's done this before. But there's no criminal record, he holds down a respectable job, has a loving family, his story holds. There must be something.
The web evolves, becoming more entangled and entwined. The cases spread across more than one jurisdiction, the lead inspector is out of his depth and Police politics between Vancouver Metro Police Force and Chalk Valley Regional Police Force threaten to overshadow the investigations which may well see Lindsay escaping justice for good.
Weeks roll into months; residents are starting to forget, the media is slating the police, people are loosing confidence. Crisis talks are held, the head of the investigations at the separate Police Forces and Units finally meet. The net is closing in, both the Police and Lindsay know it, it won't be long until one of them falls to pieces.
The genre of serial killers has been done a thousand times over so it was hard to see how this book would stand-out from the rest. For me it is brought to life by the complexities and techniques of the Police investigation. Indeed, the Police investigations were so brilliantly portrayed it almost felt as though I were reading a manuscript from a real investigation rather than reading a fictional novel.
Part of this realism, was actually the time it takes for the investigations to be completed. The frustrations of the leading detectives, who are hampered by their own personal issues and the politics of the Police forces are the tug of war sub-plots. Alcoholism, divorce, affairs, death all play key roles within the book. At times though, these frustrations are transported from the characters to the reader as some of the dialogue can be a bit too bogged down and heavy burdened with the complexities of Police infighting and thus somewhat slowing the tempo down a bit.
At the start of the novel, as a reader we know who the killer is, we know his identity. At least one of the lead detectives 100% suspects him and the others soon follow suit. This isn't a whodunnit; we already know. It is the chase, the mind-games, the thrill which drives it and I for one loved it!
Characters - Lets start with the bad guy, Phil Lindsay. His profile is exactly what throws the Police examination at the start, simply, from the surface he doesn't match the characteristics of a serial killer. He's well-education, employed, has a wife and daughter, no past criminal record. His personality, once you delve a bit deeper, is almost schizophrenic. His exchanges with his wife shows how easily his temper flips, how his mood swings get out of control.
McCarty, at Chalk Valley Police Department is the lead detective who is in over his head. He tries every method in the book such as hot-lines and reviewing previous convicts to draw an exhaustive list of every possible 'could-be' suspect in and around Chalk Valley, whilst ignoring what Vancouver Met has to offer. His ego means he's reluctant to take the bait.
Kreaver, at Vancouver Met, is similar to McCarty in more ways than one. Both have had marriage issues and an addiction, either to sex, the bottle or work. Yet, he has his target and won't budge even if McCarty shows others that fit the serial killer profile better than Lindsay. Frustrated with the pace and constant failures of the investigation, he sets out on his own.
Narration - The narration is from many points of view, though predominantly it came across as Kreaver who had the most page time. This is what I think added that extra layer of complexity; following numerous accounts throughout the novel. At first, I must admit, it is hard to distinguish between Kreaver's and McCarthy's cases and completely follow which event is linked to who's. This is not a bad thing, you just need to ensure you concentrate that little bit harder.
Language used & dialogue - The story flows very well and this is due to the good and solid use of language. The Police terminology added to that realism in the plot - though at some points I did want to erase the number of acronyms! The dialogue exchanges are perhaps my favourite aspect of the book. To give one example, the second meeting between Kreaver and Lindsay at Lindsay's family home built-up tension.
Setting - The setting is Chalk Valley, British Columbia. What I liked about this setting was how non-descriptive it really was i.e. there was nothing significant about it and so it felt as though it could have happened in your backyard.
Themes & ideas - Not revolutionary in it's concept but the execution is well done and it was great to follow two parallel investigations in two different Police units.
The Verdict - Chalk Valley is a solid debut from a talented author. From a lover of the crime and thriller genres, I have read my fair share and this offers something refreshing and new. The complexity of Police investigations and the characterisation are the stand-out features. This isn't a whodunnit; we already know. It is the chase, the mind-games, the thrill which drives it and I for one loved it! Johnstone, you have a fan! 4* Stars.