BOOK REVIEW: Rattle by Fiona Cummins
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Crime / Thriller
A psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter.
He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he’s just like anyone else. But in the other he is the caretaker of his family’s macabre museum.
Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt.
Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs.
What begins is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the sinister collector, Jakey’s father and Etta Fitzroy, a troubled detective investigating a spate of abductions.
Set in London’s Blackheath, Rattle by Fiona Cummins explores the seam of darkness that runs through us all; the struggle between light and shadow, redemption and revenge.
It is a glimpse into the mind of a sinister psychopath. And it’s also a story about not giving up hope when it seems that all hope is already lost.
Cummins’ debut novel is a chilling look at stranger danger, in which not one but two children are swayed, in the duration of the narrative, by the words of a man they do not know. One believes him when he says simply, ‘Mummy asked me to walk you home. ‘Cos you don’t like the dark. OK?’, and the other is eager to see the man’s made up dog, who is about to have puppies; the man was hoping the child might like to keep one.
It is a reminder that these discussions need to be had with children, that even if the person says they know their parents or offers them something they deeply desire, they should never go with strangers, and as such this is bound to be a chilling and at times uncomfortable story on many levels for anyone with children in their lives.
But beyond the stranger danger element, this is a study of people. The innocence of children; the strain put on a family when their child is born with a condition that will affect their life or the way people see them; the suffering when a child is lost, one way or another; and the upbringing that might lead one to believe that killing children is acceptable, and for the good of humankind.
It’s also a tale of resilience. The ways that those left behind keep going, must continue on in the hopes that their child might be found.
Why had no one warned how how difficult it was to sum up, in one photograph, the son she loved? Should she portray him as a laughing, carefree boy on his daddy’s shoulder, or sick and fragile, in a hospital bed? The public would search harder for a poorly child, Lilith decided.
The ways the investigation can put a certain additional strain on the families, even as it is needed.
She could read his outrage in the line of his lips, the fleck of spittle on his chin. She understood it, and would have been surprised by its absence. But Fitzroy had seen that expression before on other faces, on the faces of fathers who had raped and strangled their little girls.
How those children might make it through each day, holding on and not letting their situation destroy them.
She was starting to lose count of how long she’d been in this room that smelled of cabbage and a sweet, sickly scent she hadn’t come across before.
Sometimes she cried, but mostly she talked to herself, muttered imaginings with her ‘pillow’ doll.
They went on long journeys. To the beach near her old home. To the swimming pool with Gina on a Saturday morning.
‘My name’s Clara. I’m five-and-a-quarter.’ A pause. ‘Are you a goodie or a baddie?’
‘A goodie.’ His voice was a scrape of wood against brick. ‘Like Spider-Man.’
‘I like Spider-Man,’ she said, her own voice high and clear. ‘I wish you could spin a web. Then we could escape.’ A wobble. ‘I don’t like it here.’
‘Me either,’ he said, as if talking through the wall to a little girl was the most natural thing in the world.
It’s at times hard to believe this is a debut novel, as the writing is engaging, observant, and deliciously gruesome, and Cummins is definitely a writer to look out for.
His eyes held hers, and in that frozen moment, she was reminded of her family’s elderly dog. He had died that summer after being eaten from the inside by maggots, an awful, prolonged death by fly strike. When she had found Buddy, still alive but in shock, his eyes had been empty. As empty as this man’s.
Early Thursday morning, he comes back. The butchered remains of the rabbit have already begun to give off a unique perfume and the Bone Collector knows it will ripen. He revels in its cloying scent, will later lick his own skin to see if he can taste it in the dead cells and follicles.
First, he will begin in the cutting room. He will peel back the boy’s skin, remove the organs, among them the brain and the tongue, and leave the remains to dry in the flat, still air of his father’s house. Then the beetles will finish the job, consuming the already decomposing flesh. They do not enjoy fresh meat.
When she is lost in her drugged sleep, he could flay the skin from her hands. He yearns to see those prehensile digits without their covering of tissues, the technicality of their grasp and pinch. He wants to study them at work, bone claws attached to living matter. He wants another first for his collection.
However, there were some things within this story that kept it from rocketing to the status of favourite title for this reader.
Foremost among these problems was that, though the first child is snatched as early as page fifteen, and though the killer seems to have been raised into a very ritualized method to the way he kills, cleans, and mounts his subjects, he keeps “forgetting” about the girl, leaving her locked in her cell while he goes after the other child. Seemingly this choice was made in order to ramp up the tension, and to give the police a better chance of finding the killer before either of the children could be turned into one of his exhibits, but in terms of a methodical, trained serial killer with a set of rules he must follow, this doesn’t make much sense at all.
There was also the occasional hint at something “other” going on, but which was never fully explored, and never really eventuated into anything, making this reader wonder why it was even included. Perhaps it was meant as a red herring, perhaps it was something further in the exploration of people, but it seemed not to match up with the rest of the text, and felt like an oversight by the author.
The story itself was not particularly unique or unpredictable, but the writing itself made for an engrossing read, and Fiona Cummins has taken up residence on this reviewer’s list of must read authors.
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