Fourteen members of the Whodunit Book Club met on February 26 to discuss "The Cleaner" by New Zealand writer Paul Cleave.
Two members sent evaluations in absentia.
The cleaner of the title refers to a man, Joe, who cleans in a Christchurch, New Zealand police station by day and kills women at night, his “night work”. His position in the police station gives him access to the investigation of these killings, which have been attributed to a serial killer dubbed the Christchurch Carver. Joe discovers something disturbing, however, he discovers that seven killings have been blamed on the Carver but he knows he has killed only six times. He vows to take his revenge on the copycat killer and then frame him for all the murders.
This is a promising premise for a serial killer story and there were a host of glowing reviews and recommendations for The Cleaner, including one from Mark Billingham, last month’s featured author, so we looked forward to reading and enjoying this dark crime thriller. Alas, it proved to be a big disappointment. Most members gave it low marks; in fact, the average of 4/10 was one of our lowest scores ever. Many were put off by the gratuitous violence, the unlikeable and unsympathetic
characters, especially the main character (one person said he was a boring psychopath). When asked if we had formed a mental picture of any of the characters, the answer was a resounding no. Some mentioned that it was painful to read because of the violence and two members chose not to finish it at all. There was some dark humour, which was clever but became tiresome towards the end of the book. The Cleaner did have its defenders who liked the darkness and the twists within the story but only one person would definitely read other books by Cleave and two said they might.
Despite these negative comments we had a lively discussion about the book and about what is the acceptable (to us) level of violence in dark crime fiction and why psychological thrillers appeal to us as readers. One member concluded that the appeal it is in learning the “why” of a particular crime, something that was lacking in The Cleaner.
Winners of the book giveaways for February were:
1. Cathy G. (welcome back, Cathy)
Next month we will discuss a “cozy”, set in Grand Bank, Newfoundland, "The Walker on the Cape" by Mike Martin.
Thanks to Marlene for writing this post as I missed the February meeting due to family illness.