The Murder Code
At long last, we are blessed with the arrival of Steve Mosby in the United States. THE MURDER CODE (titled DARK ROOM in its original British publication) is the first of his seven (to date) novels to see official publication here, and it is a remarkable introduction, indeed: imaginative, intelligent, horrific, and ultimately unforgettable.
THE MURDER CODE is primarily narrated by British DI Andy Hicks, a quietly distracted and troubled law enforcement officer in an unnamed but nonetheless familiar city. Hicks and his partner, Laura Fellowes, are initially tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a young woman whose body is found within steps of the modest apartment that she shares with her mother. Hicks almost immediately assumes that the killing is the tragic end result of a domestic situation --- the victim’s ex-boyfriend was a known abuser --- but is quickly proven wrong when a similar killing is uncovered a short distance away involving a homeless man with no ties to the first victim.
"Mosby does an excellent job of creating a chilling mystery here while never losing sight of the human element of Hicks, the pursuing protagonist."
Shortly thereafter, Hicks receives an anonymous letter, purportedly from the killer, that both taunts him and provides him with a tenuous clue as to who is behind these murders and why, while revealing that other victims have yet to be found and more crimes will be committed. As multiple victims are subsequently uncovered in quick succession, it becomes clear to Hicks and Fellowes that they are dealing with an individual who is both a serial killer and a mass killer, which, from a psychological standpoint, is all but impossible.
At the same time, Hicks is emotionally troubled by the deterioration of his marriage just as he and his wife are about to give birth to their first child. The reason for the problem has Hicks’s own childhood at its root, and, more specifically, a horrific incident that suddenly intersects in a number of ways with the case that Hicks is currently tasked with investigating. Meanwhile, the puzzle of the murders proceeds, until a reminder of one of Hicks’s past investigative failures tragically comes to the forefront and forces him to confront his present situation and career.
Mosby’s books are highly regarded in Britain and Europe, and from the strength of THE MURDER CODE, it is easy to see why. At various points I was reminded of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS but also of John Verdon’s THINK OF A NUMBER, although it does not truly resemble either book stylistically. Mosby does an excellent job of creating a chilling mystery here while never losing sight of the human element of Hicks, the pursuing protagonist. And let’s not forget Laura Fellowes, Hicks’s steady, quiet partner who is nonetheless a commanding if secondary presence throughout.
I would certainly be in favor of seeing more of Fellowes in subsequent novels. For the immediate future, however, let us hope that Mosby’s all-but-assured success in the United States with THE MURDER CODE encourages publication of his previous works here, and quickly.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 13, 2013