Craig Robertson will be the International Rising Star Guest of Honor at this year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans (September 15-18, 2016). In light of that and the fact that many readers may be unfamiliar with his work, I have decided to review his debut novel – Random (released in 2010). This novel was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger Award and has been followed by four other books in the series, as well as a stand-alone crime novel.
(This is the first in a series looking at the work of Bouchercon 2016 Guests of Honor.)
Random is a thriller featuring a serial killer bestowed with the moniker The Cutter by the Scottish media. This killer finds his victims in and around Glasgow, uses different methods to murder them, and then always cuts off their pinkie finger as a way of marking his kills. His job as a taxi driver allows him both anonymity and mobility.
Unlike most serial killer novels, Craig Robertson has chosen to tell the entire story from the perspective of the unnamed killer himself. This means that the reader is spending time in the mind of this man, but unlike novels such as You by Caroline Kepnes or the Dexter books of Jeff Lindsay, the intention of this is not to encourage the reader to sympathize with the killer, but more to demonstrate how such a twisted mind works (or doesn’t work, depending on your perspective).
This alone would be enough to make Random a harrowing and scary reading experience, but then Robertson takes it one step further and makes The Cutter a man who is seemingly picking his victims at random – a name from the phone book, a business card left at a restaurant, or various other non-logical reasons (if logic can ever factor into a motive for murder). This element of randomness somehow makes the killing spree all that much more chilling – the reader feels threatened with each passing page.
While Random is part of the DS Rachel Narey series, the majority of Rachel’s work on the case is presented within the context of newspaper articles covering the story for the public. This is an interesting way to incorporate the police procedural portion of the story and makes those moments when Rachel does actively appear in a dramatic scene that much more impactful.
When a gangster kingpin becomes entangled in the investigation, the reader experiences what makes The Cutter feel fear. Suddenly, it’s not just the police who are on his trail, but a fellow madman. How will the introduction of this new level of stress affect The Cutter’s endgame? There is a nice sequence of twists at the end of the novel, which are sure to keep readers anxiously turning pages until the final sentence.
Craig Robertson’s writing style in Random makes this novel a very fast read. His use of short sentences, sometime even one-word sentences, makes the book read like poetic prose. Part of this is because we are in the mind of this psychopathic killer. The Cutter’s thoughts are a depiction of mental illness – rambling, repetitive, reactionary. The Cutter is a bit of an obsessive-compulsive personality and watching his decent into madness from within his mind makes for a unique reading experience.
The writing style, unusual point of view, and complex motive elevates Random above standard serial killer novels which tend to be excessively graphic, misogynistic, and predictable. It was with good reason this novel was viewed as the entry-point of a promising new talent on the crime fiction roster. Read Craig Robertson’s Random and then continue on with his other works.
Then join us in New Orleans for Bouchercon, where you can meet Craig in person.