Gruesome. Macabre. Mutilated. Okay, still with me? As a slice n’ dice thriller, Jason P Stadtlander’s The Steel Van Man stacks up quite nicely.
The first half dozen pages set a mightily bizarre tone. Hang in there, though, because what follows is an intense crime novel that offers plenty of forensic, Dexter-like detail and a few curly changes of tack.
The quiet community of (the fictional) Manatahqua Point, Massachusetts, is shocked when a series of brutally neat copycat killings emerge. Handsome widower Detective Stanley Devonshire is brought into the case, and does his best to piece together the clues. But the killer is an elusive beast.
Stadtlander provides an unsettling account of how a small town can be gripped by unstoppable crimes. By focussing on those affected by the deaths, and the perpetrator(s) of the murders, Stadtlander mostly disregards the hysterical national or global media attention that such events would attract.
The clumsy title of the book, and its unorthodox publishing style as a partly crowdfunded publication, detracts slightly from the taught writing. And there’s an unnecessary editor’s afterword telling us how good the book was. The proof is in the pudding; only this pudding is more like a Scottish haggis. Bursting with blood and offal.
I’ll admit to fast-forwarding my way through a few of the less savoury scenes. But in all, The Steel Van Man is loads of messy, gory fun.
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