Police action is a tried-and-true genre, so whenever a new series comes out, I always want to know what sets it apart. Why should I read this is First in a series, unlike many others who have come and gone? Nadine Matheson, a London-based criminal defense attorney, answers this question with her main character on her debut Jigsaw manDetective Inspector Angelica Henley, a black woman whose position and community do not trust her greatly.
Henley’s identity is definitely not the focus Jigsaw manBut it permeates the novel. As Henley tries to do her job, investigating the serial murders that just got a little closer to home, she is constantly reminded that her community does not trust her profession or colleagues. They wonder why she chose the job she has, and what he would say about her as a person. It adds an extra layer of complexity to an already well-written and engaging novel.
The premise of Matheson’s first appearance includes the titular serial killer, Jigsaw Man, who Dee Henley puts behind bars – but not after he stabs her, seriously injuring her. Angelica has been in office service since then, and although she recovered from her physical injury, she did not come close to work through the mental trauma she had undergone. When she receives a call that another murder has occurred that looks suspiciously like Jigsaw Man’s job, she knows it’s time for her to return to active duty.
I invested in the Anjelica story from the start. Matheson introduces her in a messy way, as Angelica is arguing with her husband Rob about her job – he’s trying to force her to choose between her profession and her family, and Anelica just wants to go to work. It’s messy, challenging, and totally connected at a time when parents (especially moms) are forced to choose between their jobs and their kids. It’s almost painfully real to peek at Henley’s raw and unfiltered thoughts and emotions, and it made me sympathize with it almost instantly.
This doesn’t mean Angelica is perfect, or always makes decisions that I agree with – some of her choices have been worthwhile – but she does her best in a world that seems to be plotting against her, and she really sympathizes with her predicament. As more murders emerged, and it became apparent that DI Henley’s team had a copycat killer on their hands, it became harder for her to put up with him. The trauma of her past comes to the surface in an excellent examination of PTSD, an almost entirely separate character in this thoughtful novel.
Matheson is writing a tense and fast-paced story with a language Jigsaw manAnd I enjoyed every second I spent with her. I find it increasingly difficult to sit down and focus on books these days, but I read this book in one sitting – the twists and turns are excellent, and the author ramps up the suspense with each chapter. She also writes a cool and sophisticated villain in Peter Olivier, the original Jigsaw Killer. He has an attractive, manipulative personality and is completely obsessed with DI Henley. Despite the fact that he is behind bars, you feel uncomfortable that he is the cat and Angelica is the mouse in this story.
One aspect of the novel that really jumped at me was the way Matheson developed her secondary characters. Not all are necessarily lovable, and they certainly aren’t perfect, but even the people on the page just for a few scenes come to life in a really cool way. The author makes this type of character development seem effortless and easy, no small feat given the number of characters and the fact that it was their first appearance. I have really enjoyed getting to know these people, especially Henley’s new partner, Salem Ramotter, and look forward to revisiting them in future installments.
Sure, this novel has a gritty feel, but it doesn’t exploit darkness or despair for thrills. Instead, even in its most horrific moments, it has very real quality. Matheson has a new voice and perspective, and I’m super excited to see where she takes these characters into future novels – you can bet I’ll read every book she writes for the foreseeable future.
Swapna Krishna writes about space, technology, and pop culture at outlets like Engadget, StarTrek.com, And the Opera Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at Embed a Tweet.