I wasn’t aware that this book formed part of a series when I started reading it, but needless to say A Taste for Blood by David Stuart Davies can be read as a standalone without the need for reading previous books.
The book begins with a flashback to a serial killer case in the nineteen-thirties, whereby young girls were being found butchered, with various body parts (including breasts) amputated and organs removed. The killer was Ralph Northcote, who not only murdered his victims in such a savage way but also devoured the body parts he removed. Having been locked in a secure mental facility for the past eight years, he longs to taste flesh and blood again and may soon have an opportunity with the help of psychologist visitor, Francis Sexton.
Francis aids his escape, but all is not as it appears for Northcote, who is not as free as he would like to be and does not have the ability to kill straight away. His escape brings back old memories for Detective David Llewellyn, the one to capture him the first time around, and who is determined to capture him again. He is suspicious of Dr Sexton, but when more bodies are found mutilated will he find the evidence he needs to track down Northcote a second time? The killer is out for vengeance, and has set his sights on Llewellyn as his next victim and his next meal all in one.
As the stress of the case gets too much, Llewellyn calls on private investigator Johnny Hawke for a fresh pair of eyes (ironic as Hawke only has one eye) to help him see the vital clue he must be missing. However, Hawke has a case of his own to solve, as he has been enlisted by a Reverend to discover the truth behind a suicide, which appears to be a straightforward hanging. The Reverend is convinced it was murder, leaving Johnny with a case that leads to something bigger than he could ever have anticipated.
The narrative switches between Hawke’s first person perspective and the third person narration of everything else, signposting him as our main character. We are let in to his fears and doubts over the case, especially as he is trying to get over the death of his girlfriend, Max. However, I didn’t think that much was really revealed about his character through his perspective, besides his ability to put clues together and follow up on leads. The majority of his investigative work felt like it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, or even having other individuals do the work for him, such as wannabe apprentice, Peter, who tracks down the murder suspect on a stakeout. This removed some of my enjoyment from the book, as I like my detectives to be quick-witted and intelligent, relying on their own smarts rather than that of those around them, or luck.
With the majority of the book actually being written in the third person I enjoyed these sections much more, although I get the feeling that it was less to do with the perspective that the case it was detailing with. The serial killer case of Llewellyn’s was much more chilling and creepy, and I felt more of a desire to get to the bottom of that case than to know who had faked the suicide in Hawke’s case. As Hawke was the supposed protagonist it would have been better if he had been given the high profile case to deal with, with the book instead feeling dominated by Llewellyn.
I found that I didn’t have much interest in Hawke’s case, but despite this I did like how the author had worked two mysteries into one novel and neatly tied up each one at the end. I’d like to point out that both cases are not related to each other, as I was under this misconception when I read the summary and anticipated both having a similar culprit. This was not the case, so I was a little disappointed with that aspect of the ending, although the rest of the conclusion ended on a high. It was full of suspense, danger and a real uncertainty of who would make it out alive. Ralph Northcote makes a fantastic antagonist, and the little insights to his mind are chilling and sickening as he details his desires for consuming flesh and how much he enjoys it. I often had to suppress a shudder whilst reading about him, so this book is definitely not for those who can’t handle their gore!
Even though this was the sixth novel in the series it can be read as a standalone, forming an intriguing double set of mysteries. I enjoyed the hunt for the serial killer more than that of Hawke’s suicide case, so I think it might have been better if the book focused on one case rather than two. Nevertheless, both mysteries are wrapped up with a nerve-wracking conclusion that will have you on edge until it’s resolved. The murderer is truly chilling, definitely not for the fainthearted.