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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)


Plotting D, characterization B

The Slaughter Man - Tony Parsons

I was so impressed by Tony Parsons’s first Max Wolfe novel last year (titled The Murder Man in the US and The Murder Bag in the UK) that I couldn’t wait for the next one.  I love Tony Parsons’s writing style and his main character, but I had a lot of problems with the plot of The Slaughter Man.


When I began listening to the audiobook of The Slaughter Man, I smiled to hear, once again, Colin Mace’s perfect voicing of the first-person narrative.  The Detective Constable Max Wolfe character is such a good one.  A copper who knows how bad the world can be but hasn’t become completely cynical; a single father devoted to his little girl, Scout, and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Stan; a guy who loves boxing as the sweet science, not for its brutality.  Refreshingly, Max Wolfe is an interesting guy without being an alcoholic or drug abuser.


As with The Murder Man, The Slaughter Man begins with a prologue that graphically describes a horrific crime.  In the current book, the crime is the murder of the wealthy Wood family, including father, mother and two teenage children, and the abduction of their young son.  The book’s plot takes two paths: the solution of the murderers and the attempt to find the little boy, Bradley.


As a fan of police procedurals, this plot often made me crazy.  I can’t say too much without spoilers, but I can say that it depends way too much on the fact that several (yes, several!) of the characters don’t tell what they know, and on the cops being just plain thick.  There is some fundamental sloppiness in procedure, and on multiple occasions Max wades into danger without calling for backup, even though there is time.  He escapes impossible situations and injuries that should have killed him or at least hospitalized him but, unbelievably, somehow he’s on his feet and even boxing in nothing flat.  Sheesh.


Again, I can’t say much without spoilers, but almost nothing about the Bradley plot makes sense.  On top of that, the direction that investigation takes Max is lurid and repulsive.


This was a real letdown after The Murder Man.  I like the Max Wolfe character enough to give the next book a try, but I hope Parsons will do a much better job of plotting.  I’m also hopeful he can go for a less sensationalistic murder plot, and one with less sexual violence.


Below, I’m going to post some VERY spoiler-y notes about things that bothered me in the book.  Don’t read further if you don’t want to read spoilers.


It took way too long for the police to figure out that Peter Nawkins wasn’t the murderer.  I’m not saying they should have known who the murderer was, necessarily, but that they should have doubted it was Peter.  Sometimes they seemed to realize that it probably wasn’t Peter, but then in the next scene they’d be back to being convinced he was the guy.  That was frustrating and sloppy.  And hey, since Mary Wood was raped, why was there not even a mention of a DNA screening of the sperm in her body?


Parsons makes a lot of the fact that the Wood family had recently had their driveway asphalted, but nobody else in the Garden community did.  But he never explains why they had the work done.  Was it for the sole purpose of Niles Gatling and Sean Nawkins setting up Peter for the later murder?  But how would that work?  It would be Brad Wood who would arrange for work to be done at his own house, not his brother-in-law or Nawkins.  It didn’t make sense.


I can just barely accept that Mary and Charlotte never told anybody about their brother Niles’s sexual assaults, but what I don’t believe is that the grown woman Charlotte, as Parsons depicts her, would associate with Niles.  It didn’t ring true.


Rocky is supposed to be a gifted boxer.  He knows that his girlfriend Echo’s father, Sean Nawkins, is abusive, but he does absolutely nothing about it.  Speaking of Rocky, why doesn’t he take Max to Savile Row, as Max asked?  It was dawn, he could have done it.  But even if he didn’t want to go to the police station, why not drop Max at a hospital?  Why go to Oak Hill, when Rocky knew Sean was responsible for nearly killing Max and would most likely be there?


Why was Bradley at the Bishop’s Road house if he wasn’t being abused?  Why did Niles Gatling spare him?  Parsons himself doesn’t seem to know, since he has Max ask that question and Niles doesn’t answer it.


When Max finds Bradley at the old Gatling family home, he also discovers that the patriarch is there, deep in dementia and being abused by his caretakers.  Supposedly, Mary and Charlotte loved their father, and he was a very wealthy man.  So why is he left to the care of a couple of low-life staff who abuse him?  Did his daughters have such terrible memories of what happened to them at their childhood home that they wouldn’t even visit their beloved father?  Did Niles set up the situation and purposely allow the abuse?  We never find out.  Instead, we just get this gratuitous bit of nastiness.