Skip to main content

The Cutting Room


The Cutting Room

When Ashley Dyer --- the pseudonym for the UK writing duo of Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper --- released their first book together in 2018, SPLINTER IN THE BLOOD, they delivered a fresh take on the standard serial killer novel. In fact, it was as expertly crafted and chilling as Thomas Harris at his finest during his run with the Hannibal Lecter series. It appeared on my Top 10 list from last year, making my expectations for the follow-up sky high.

The two protagonists from SPLINTER IN THE BLOOD are back in THE CUTTING ROOM. Detectives Ruth Lake and Greg Carver are now putting their guile and success in catching the worst of the worst killers to the test with a new adversary nicknamed the Ferryman, who is brought to light during the TV show “Fact, or Fable?” The host, Professor Mick Tennent, has no clue that his presentation of the Ferryman on live TV will make him a target and an inevitable victim of the killer. It is Tennent's disappearance and subsequent confirmed murder that makes the Ferryman the priority for Carver and his team.

"...another highly effective crime novel filled with extremely complex, real characters who keep the pace at high-stepping speed from start to finish."

Carver is still taking things slowly as he was nearly killed by the murderer from SPLINTER IN THE BLOOD. The odd thing is that, even though he is still weakened physically, the near-death experience left him with an odd trait --- the ability to read people’s emotions in colors. It doesn't seem like much, but knowing what a subject is thinking is a major asset with the many interrogations involved in the Ferryman case. He relies heavily on Lake to shoulder the burden of handling the groundwork, and she always seems to be one step behind this crafty killer. Their team shares notes with the SCD1, or Serious Crime Directorate One, but it doesn't really lead to anything worthwhile. This is a case that is going to require a good amount of legwork and following up on the right leads.

Meanwhile, the Ferryman seems to be relishing the attention and has several followers/worshippers who enjoy his rather public displays of art that involve the morbid use of human subjects. One of his top followers is referred to as “Kharon,” which is very close to “Charon,” the name given to the fabled Ferryman who guides souls across the River Styx in the underworld.

Throughout the novel, Dyer includes some chapters purely from the Ferryman's point of view, and his mind is definitely a chilling place to inhabit. At one point, he admits in his private thoughts that art is a lie, and the beauty of that lie brings us close to the real truth. Ironically, this is important information that the police wish they had earlier. When Kharon, whose real name is Karl Obrazki, is killed in brutal fashion, the cops are flustered. They never saw it coming and failed to protect someone who promptly went from suspect to victim.

During this case, which gets more and more twisty, we also see Lake distracted by the emergence of her estranged brother, Adam Black. The two have not really spoken since the death of their parents --- a complex situation that they each have drastically different takes on that have formed the roadblock between them. Black is also an artist and, much to Lake's dismay and avoidance, is soon under the air of suspicion as well. One element that I found humorous was the reference to a song by the fictional band Graveyard Train, “The Ferryman.” It made me think that the author could have selected the real song “Don't Pay The Ferryman” by Chris de Burgh, which directly references the legendary Charon.

The beauty of THE CUTTING ROOM is Dyer’s easy writing style. Typically, when you have two established writers collaborating on a literary work, you can clearly see the line of demarcation that separates the pair. This is completely undetectable here, and the result is another highly effective crime novel filled with extremely complex, real characters who keep the pace at high-stepping speed from start to finish. Jump on in with Lake and Carver, and make sure you have several hours blocked out in your schedule. You're going to need them once you're absorbed inside this well-constructed thriller.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 21, 2019

The Cutting Room
by Ashley Dyer

  • Publication Date: August 25, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062797727
  • ISBN-13: 9780062797728