- Click here to read L. Dean Murphy's review.
Review #1 by Joe Hartlaub
RAGDOLL is a hard rock in a very thin sock, a book with the ability to knock you silly from first page to last. It's a hard-boiled police procedural thriller set in London, full of violence, wicked humor and dark suspense. The book reminded me of Garth Ennis’ more accessible work (Preacher) in some places, John Connolly’s incomparable Charlie Parker series in others, and at times made me wonder if perhaps debut author Daniel Cole might be Christopher Fowler, he of the Bryant & May series and so many other wonderful books. Yes, Cole and RAGDOLL, his firstborn, are that good.
It would be a gross oversimplification to say that the premise involves an out-of-control police detective trying to catch an over-the-top serial killer. That is not entirely untrue, but RAGDOLL is so much more than that. The title comes from the discovery of a body displayed in a very grisly manner in the room of an apartment across from the residence of Detective Sergeant William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, or “Wolf,” as he is known for more than one reason. It is quickly determined that the corpse is actually comprised of many different body parts from multiple involuntary and unknown donors that have been sewn together. Wolf’s team is tasked with determining who the victims are, but their caseloads expand all too quickly.
"RAGDOLL is a hard rock in a very thin sock, a book with the ability to knock you silly from first page to last. It's a hard-boiled police procedural thriller set in London, full of violence, wicked humor and dark suspense."
Subsequent to the discovery of the ragdoll corpse, the artistic killer sends a communication to Wolf’s ex-wife, a reporter for a local television station. It is noteworthy in that it contains a list of people who he is going to do away with, and when, with Wolf being the last to go. Over the course of the following two weeks, the killer is seemingly unstoppable, to the extent that he appears to have a source inside of Wolf's unit. He does, but that is the least of the surprises in RAGDOLL, as Cole takes the investigating team, the story and the readers into all manner and sorts of unexpected territories, ever mindful of the multiple ticking clocks that can be heard throughout the narrative.
The killer has a seemingly endless inventory of methods for murder and mayhem, and cares little about any collateral damage he might inflict as he engages in his selected targets that he has picked seemingly at random. The victims, though, have hardly been chosen by happenstance. The surprise isn’t so much how they were picked, but by whom and, most importantly, why.
Wolf, whose explosive temper and impulsive behavior have gotten him into professional and personal trouble in the past (as we learn over the course of the novel), could probably carry the story all by himself, but he has plenty of help. The quirky members of the homicide unit to which he belongs are full of foibles, strengths and weaknesses, with each being memorable and likable (and otherwise) in their own ways. It is Wolf, however, who gets the best lines, inserting dark and grim humor into the proceedings that match them in mood.
At the end of the day, it is difficult to discern if RAGDOLL is the first of a series, a stand-alone, or something else entirely. It would be a shame, though, to consign the characters left standing --- or at least breathing --- at the conclusion of the story to oblivion. Regardless, I cannot wait to see what Cole has in store for his next offering.
In Daniel Cole’s debut, RAGDOLL, Detective Sergeant William Oliver Layton-Fawkes (obviously nicknamed “Wolf”) goes berserk in court, when Naguib Khalid --- “The Cremation Killer” --- is acquitted of murdering 27 teenagers in as many days. Wolf nearly beats to death the freed Khalid. He’s forced off London’s police force and into a psych ward.
After four years, on his first day out, Wolf notices many police vehicles near his dumpy walkup flat. He ventures across the street to discover homicide detectives at a gruesome crime scene. A harrowing “ragdoll” has been sutured together from various body parts of six individuals: “One dead body --- six victims. Dozens of silk-like threads supported the outstretched hand and a dozen more held the extended index finger in place.” Wolf observes that the collective cadaver is “pointing into my apartment window.” The “Ragdoll’s female right arm” is attached to the accusing index fingertip painted with a different color nail polish, one that is extremely expensive.
"Not for the squeamish, this intense first-in-a-series crime thriller is sheer psychotic brilliance. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, RAGDOLL is a genius riddle, wrapped in an intriguing mystery, inside the enigma known as Daniel Cole."
Detectives learn that each of the six victims is somehow connected to Wolf and the Cremation Killer trial. The cops deduce that each body part has special identifying features, like a traceable surgical implant in someone Wolf knows all too well. Moreover, a famous TV news anchor --- specifically Wolf’s ex, Andrea --- receives a list of six named individuals who will be murdered on specified dates over the next few weeks. The last name on the list is Wolf’s, perhaps honoring Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.
The first name on the list is London’s Mayor Turnble, and the inferred death date is today. Wolf takes the honorable mayor into protective custody, to no avail. One down, five to go. As the numbers tick down, intended victim Ashley opines, “It’s like watching a cat playing with a mouse.” (Christie’s 1952 release of THE MOUSETRAP?)
Wry humor somewhat softens the razor-sharp edge of gruesome murders. Detective Finlay Shaw tells Wolf, “You’ve got two left feet lad.” Wolf jokes that he’s “more of a singer.” Finlay taps a photo in the grotesque corpse collage and repeats, “You’ve got two left feet.” Wolf had assembled photos of the Ragdoll corpse using identical pix of the left leg.
Flashbacks to Wolf’s stint at Saint Ann psychiatric hospital hint at the detective’s ability to get into the presumed Ragdoll Killer’s warped psyche. But has Wolf duped other detectives into believing that the Cremation and Ragdoll killers are the same? How does the composite cadaver killer know each detail of the police investigation? An insider leak? Just who is “the world’s most famous murderous sociopath?”
Not for the squeamish, this intense first-in-a-series crime thriller is sheer psychotic brilliance. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, RAGDOLL is a genius riddle, wrapped in an intriguing mystery, inside the enigma known as Daniel Cole.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub and L. Dean Murphy on April 7, 2017