PROMISE by Tony Cavanaugh

I really admire Tony Cavanaugh. Not only is Promise a terrifying crime debut, but it’s set in a place that’s only an hour away from where I live. I can’t imagine it would be easy to take a familiar environment and transform it into a serial killer’s playground, but the setting made it ten times creepier and a whole lot more enjoyable. Disclaimer: Tony Cavanaugh’s subject matter is intense. Not just Dark Places intense, but pedophilia and necrophilia intense. I’ll be honest, I was basically making this face half the time…

I wanted a shower afterwards. I’m viewing this as a positive response, though. I read a quote a while back about each book being a different combination of the same 26 letters, and I respect an author who can make me have such a powerful response to words. This is my warning to you. Promise is a horrifying and confronting novel, with the most heinous of crimes described in explicit detail by a sadistic killer. But it is a great novel with intense protagonists (both good and evil) that will elicit an emotional response from even the most seasoned crime fiction devotees.

Darian Richards was the top homicide cop in Melbourne; however after the serial ‘train killer’ eluded capture, Darian retired and moved to the sunny Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Tired of making promises he seemed no longer able to keep, he retreated to a sanctuary near the Noosa River in search of an idyllic and calming lifestyle. For a while, he had succeeded. He has his friend Casey, another newly retired Melbournian, and Casey’s girlfriend Maria, a cop with the local police. Despite his desire to stay under the radar, the local cops are not impressed that the nation’s ‘top cop’ has decided to pull up stumps in their territory. When a deranged resident starts abducting and brutally killing young girls, Darian does his best not to interfere with the investigation. But as the body count rises, Darian decides that, retired or not, sitting idly by is not his style.

This novel is not an easy read. Promise has two alternating narrators–Darian, and the killer. The chapters written from the perspective of the killer are tough to get through. To his credit, Cavanaugh doesn’t hold back. If I had ever wanted insight into the mind of a sick psychopath, I think I may have found it. The problem is that not every reader wants that. Sure, the hardcore crime fans love some gritty content, but some of the killer-narrated chapters are so perverse for a commercial trade crime audience that I’m surprised the publisher let it through. Because of my own preferences, I enjoyed it. Not sure what that says about me. Whatever. But if you pick up Promise, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Moving beyond the dark content, the plot is strong. The addition of killer-perspective chapters undoubtedly raises the tension, but Promise is tense from the first page. Darian fits the mould of the wounded and damaged hero, and seasoned crime readers will be familiar with this construction. We can’t help but cheer for him as he battles his demons and tries to overcome his previous failures, but no new ground is really covered. A host of quirky supporting characters keep the story moving.

At times, it’s clear that Promise was Cavanaugh’s first novel. But it was haunting and deeply affecting, and has more than convinced me that I need to read the next Darian Richards instalment, Dead Girl Sing. Sounds equally as ominous–count me in.

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