When you pick up any novel by Paul Cleave you can always cherish that moment of innocence before you open the first page – that moment where (if you have read any of Cleave’s previous novels) you take an anticipatory breath, knowing nothing else other than that you will be in for a wild and crazy ride – a ride that doesn’t stop until the final page of the book.
With the release of Cleave’s latest novel Five Minutes Alone, he once again manages to drop the reader right into the fray – in this case the mind of Kelly Summers, a mind fraught by the memories of a brutal attack on her by her neighbour, Dwight Smith, who has been jailed for doing “some very unneighbourly things to her.” When Dwight shows up again in a very sinister Deja-vu in Kelly’s bathroom, you would expect things to go from bad to worse – this is exactly the point where Cleave changes the script, and introduces the crux on which the plot of this novel revolves, namely, who should be allowed to make and execute judgements of life and death, and is there ever such a thing as a justified murder?
Cleave is masterful at creating intricate and evolving characters – characters which have a habit of showing up when you least expect it. Five Minutes Alone features various characters from Cleave’s previous novels, but essentially revolves around the two policemen Theodore Tate and Carl Schroder, also known as “the coma cops” from their exploits of trying to capture Joe “the Christchurch Carver” Middleton. Once friends and colleagues, both men’s lives are in recovery from traumatic professional and personal circumstances, in which the question of “what do you do when you are given a second chance at life” is central to their – outwardly very different, yet essentially eerily similar – ambitions and actions.
When Tate, who has been newly reinstated with the Christchurch police, is asked to solve the case of a string of murdered rapists, he is confronted with ethical dilemmas that push all boundaries of the kind of justice system that he is required to work within. When he then goes looking for answers from his former partner Schroder – who has come out of his coma with a bullet still lodged in his brain and some serious personality problems – Tate has to re-evaluate some fundamental beliefs and fight for his right at a second chance.
As a thriller, Five Minutes Alone works perfectly in keeping the suspense and overturning expectations at every point – but more than that, the novel also raises a series of questions and deals with weighty issues that consider trauma, revenge and a justice system that is often limited in the way that it apprehends, convicts, and “punishes” those who have committed horrific crimes. This, coupled with Cleave’s ability to inject even the most horrific scenes and characterisations with a good dose of dry and witty humour, means that Five Minutes Alone is the perfect read to keep you spellbound – and most willingly – on that ride.