Publisher: Sphere, 2008
First line: It’s eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-October, and outside it’s raining so hard that cows are floating down rivers and birds are resting on their bloated bodies.
Psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin is called to the Clifton Suspension Bridge where a woman, naked except for her red high heels, is poised to jump. As she weeps into a mobile phone, he tries to talk her down. She turns to him, whispers ‘you don’t understand’ and jumps.
A few days later, the woman’s teenage daughter, Darcy, turns up on Joe’s doorstep. She refuses to believe her mother could have committed suicide, and certainly not by jumping off a bridge. Joe starts to believe that the woman was coerced into jumping by the person on the other end of the mobile phone. The police don’t want to treat it as anything other than suicide until another woman dies in similar circumstances.
Joe and his family have moved from London to Bristol, in the hope that a less hectic lifestyle will be better for his Parkinson’s, which is now having a significant impact on his life, and he has taken a part-time teaching job at the University. When Joe’s guilt at being unable to save the woman leads him to become more involved in the case, it begins to affect his family, particularly his wife with whom his relationship becomes increasingly strained.
As the true nature of the crimes is revealed, Joe realises that they are dealing with a different kind of psychopath. This murderer doesn’t just want to kill, he wants to humiliate his victim, to completely destroy her mind first. At one point he tells Joe of the “moment when all hope disappears, all pride is gone, all expectations, all faith, all desire: I own that moment. It’s mine. And that’s when I hear the sound. … The sound of a mind breaking.”
There’s a terrific cast of supporting characters, including Joe’s friend, retired DI Vincent Ruiz, and straight-talking DI Veronica Cray, a woman who definitely deserves a bigger role in a future book.
The crimes are chilling, but Robotham’s storytelling is compelling. As psychological thrillers go this is one of the very best. Make sure you have plenty of time when you start to read this book because you won’t be able to put it down.
Michael Robotham, previously a journalist and ghost writer of numerous autobiographies of the rich and famous, lives in Sydney. Shatter is the fourth in this loose series, in which each book takes a minor character from the previous book as the main character. The previous titles are The Suspect, Lost (aka The Drowning Man) and The Night Ferry.