The Curator, by M.W.Craven
Mike Craven spent his formative years in the army, travelling the world, and when he left, he became a probation officer before turning his hand to fiction writing, so he has a fair breadth of experience in the less salubrious aspects of human life upon which to draw for his fiction, and if this story is exemplary of his, to date, minimal canon, he does draw upon this experience; although, to be fair, the violence and psychopathic lack of concern for other human beings’ suffering here is no worse than I have encountered in other thrillers, nor is it worse than any one might find in the output of more ‘respectable’ and well-embedded authors, such as Agatha Christie. This book is the latest entrant in the Washington Poe series, which to date consists of two precursors & one short story collection; other than that, there are two books in the Avison Fluke series—Fluke is a police detective inspector, and it would appear that Craven has a predilection for slightly unusual names, although that could be a canny device that helps to ensure that his character names are remembered, given the multiplicity of police characters from which readers can choose.
Washington Poe is a police officer; a sergeant; he is not a regular detective however, but an analyst in the Serious Crimes Analysis Section: “the National Crime Agency unit charged with investigating serial killers and apparently motiveless murders”, and he is based in Cumbria, a very scenic part of England. By way of a difference in police procedurals, Poe’s partner is not another detective, or a superior officer, but a nerdy female data analyst, Matilda ‘Tilly’ Bradshaw [apologies if the term ‘nerdy’ seems unfair, or ungallant, but surely that can just as easily be applied to a woman as to a man?]. Tilly is highly intelligent, coming to SCAS, her first ‘real’ job, from more years in academia than most graduates, and she is very probably somewhere on the autism spectrum; although I must admit I am slightly uncomfortable with this concept, as I think nearly everybody could be so categorised to some degree, and it does enable people with that particular character flaw to be judgmental about those who are, as I might describe it, otherwise enabled. Suffice to say that Poe, the name he is mostly called, and Tilly are fast friends, and her logic counteracts his more impetuous approach to policing.
The story starts with three murders, which are not discovered until after three pairs of fingers, each of which pairs is cut from the same individual victim, but also, each finger in a pair is cut at a different time: one ante mortem, and the other post mortem. The finger pairs are left in seemingly random locations, and there are no clues, including usable CCTV images, as to who left the gruesome gifts. There is only one common factor, other than the fingers themselves, which ties the three murders together: at each scene, the tag #BSC6 has been left; two are printed on ordinary paper, but the third is custom-printed onto a beverage mug, and substituted for an innocuous mug in a Secret Santa game, intended to facilitate a marriage proposal. Needless to say, the proposal doesn’t happen, although there are other complicating circumstances surrounding the endeavour. The hashtag on these cryptic texts suggests an internet connection, and the unsettling connection is soon found. Tilly & Poe discover who all three victims were in fairly short order, but it isn’t until Poe is contacted by an FBI agent, who is in the wilderness professionally, because of her allegedly outlandish theories, that the British investigators are informed about the subject of the story: the Curator, an anonymous contract killer.
Poe is more accommodating to the American’s information than her own colleagues & superiors have been, but it is some time before he & Tilly can ascertain the common element which caused the deaths of the three British victims; they are also mindful of the fact that a killer, who could strike so apparently easily and anonymously, could very possibly strike again, so as is common in many such stories, there is a race against time to prevent this and catch the perpetrator. Given that the violence was not too graphic, and that the tension was nicely applied, I enjoyed reading this story, and Craven’s characters are interesting enough, without being unnecessarily eccentric, so I would be very happy to find another of his books. The paperback I read was published in 2020 by Constable, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, London, ISBN 978-1-47213-194-2.