Without any prelude or mucking around, M.J. Arlidge drops you straight into the action – or rather, the nightmare – that is the plotline for his debut novel Eeny Meeny. “Sam is asleep. I could kill him now. His face is turned from me – it wouldn’t be hard. Would he stir if I moved? Try and stop me? Or would he just be glad that this nightmare is over?”
Amy has been abducted and imprisoned inside a disused, empty swimming pool alongside her boyfriend Sam. Without food, water or any hope of escape, their jailor gives them two things: a loaded gun and the instructions “You must kill to live” – in order for one of them to live, they must decide to shoot the other. Amy makes her choice, but survival does not mean an end to her torture.
As it becomes clear that this horrendous abduction is not an isolated occurrence, and that a deadly serial killer is orchestrating a complex and virtually fool-proof plan, Southampton DI Helen Grace and her team find themselves drawn into this deadly game. The narrative shows them facing their own secret demons, as their professional and personal lives become inexplicably connected with finding the clues for stopping this killer.
This is by no means a novel for the faint hearted; the author does not shy away from the darkest recesses of people’s minds and actions, and the physical and mental struggle endured by all the characters – especially the abducted victims – is described in gruesome detail, and with credibility. There is real skill to the author’s characterisations, and his insights into their thoughts and feelings are genuine and bring all the characters to life. The variations in point of view from one chapter to the next –between the victims, Detective Inspector Helen Grace, S&M “man for hire” Jake, Mark and Charlie from the police team, and an un-identified first voice narrating her past childhood – are well balanced, set a good pace and always leave the reader wanting to know more.
For fans of authors such as Mo Hayder, Eeny Meeny is a novel you will most definitely want to check out. For those who like their crime novels a bit more mellow, I say skim-read the desperately uncomfortable bits and enjoy the skill with which this new novelist executes what is an innovative and ambitious plot. The follow up to this novel, Pop Goes the Weasel, will be published by Penguin Books in September 2014.