Theodore Tate

Created by Paul Cleaves

"Something dark and very creepy has just touched my life."

-- Tate in Collecting Cooper

THEODORE TATE (rarely "Ted"; more often "asshole") is a prickly cop/ex-cop/private eye and all-round fuck-up with a rep for nailing serial killers. And he does seem to have a knack for it, even if his methods are a little, uh, hands-on at times.

You wouldn't think there'd be much call for a private eye with such a peculiar speciality, so it's fortunate for Teddy (or at least his creator, international bestselling thriller writer Paul Cleaves) that his stomping grounds in Christchurch, New Zealand are evidently crawling with assorted homicidal maniacs, serial killers and other deranged individuals.

Still, there's something a little creepy about our serial killer fetish. It's probably even more disturbing if you're a bookseller like me, watching customers walking in every day to stock up on the latest blood'n'gore wankery about Manson, Bundy et al. And don't even get me started on those one-handed novels full of sensuously detailed torture and mutilation, all so lovingly narrated in the first person.

Which is why I found Collecting Cooper (2011), which I reviewed for Mystery Scene a few years ago, so alternately enthralling and unsettling. It kicked off with, yes, yet another abduction of yet another pretty young woman and yes, related the horrendous details of her prolonged captivity at the hands of a monster, as the forces of "good" race to save her.

But Cleaves actually did more than bash out a little more torture porn for sickos -- he also poked a stick into some truly, truly dark places. Because it's not enough that Christchurch is crawling with psychos. No, everyone in the story is seemingly obsessed with them in one way or another.

Particularly Tate, who's just out of prison after four months for driving under the influence. He's hired by Donovan Green, a figure from his troubled past, to find his missing daugher, Emma. Meanwhile, Schroeder, one of Tate's few remaining police friends, asks him to look into the whereabouts of another serial killer, Melissa X. And then Emma's psychology professor, Cooper, who's writing a book on serial killers, is snatched by a former mental patient who is also, yes, obsessed with serial killers. The circle of obsession -- and the impulse to torture and kill -- spreads through this book like a virus, as though contact with monsters alone can turn you into a monster.

Cleaves juggles multiple points of views and some deft misdirection to keep readers off-balance, and his hellish depiction of Christchurch in the middle of a heat wave is without pity. Then, as a reward to the faithful, perhaps, villains from his previous thrillers pop up, because of course, who doesn't want to recall fond memories of eyeball gauging, cannibalism and torture?

You know, for old times' sake?

The cynical, ambiguous conclusion to this wild, violent romp makes you wonder about Cleaves.

And his fans.

And me.

I couldn't put it down.

Paul Cleave's other novels include The Cleaner, The Killing Hour, Blood Men and the Edgar-nominated Joe Victim. They're all interconnected, with Tate wandering in and out of most of them. By 2014's Five Minutes Alone, he's even back on the police force. The author lives, just like Tate, in Christchurch, New Zealand.



Private eyes at work in Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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