Nine Elms (Kate Marshall)
“A compelling read with an intricate plot, a strong setting, and characters so real they are almost live human beings . . .”
Nine Elms is comparable to Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series in that both Kate Marshall and Inspector experience some personal tragedies and share the temptation to make their work the principal focus of their lives.
Six years sober, Kate Marshall, former homicide detective and now a lecturer on various phases of criminal investigation at a small university on England’s southern coast, is ready for her first class of the morning: Criminal Icons.
The criminal icon that is the subject of Kate’s lecture is one with which she is personally familiar: Peter Conway, former police DCI and Kate’s boss. He is better known as the Nine Elms Cannibal even though he only took bites of flesh from his victims rather than consuming them entirely.
Kate captured the Nine Elms Cannibal and stopped the serial murders that would have continued, but she paid an almost unbearable price.
“Peter would be locked up for the rest of his life. He was a high-profile prisoner, a monster, fed and cared for by the state . . . Kate, in comparison, was the good guy, but in catching him she’d lost her career and her reputation and was still trying to salvage a normal life from the aftermath.”
Kate had a brief sexual relationship consisting of two encounters with Peter when he was her boss. As a result she became pregnant with the Cannibal’s child. When her relationship becomes known, she is vilified and loses her career. After giving birth to her son, she spirals into alcoholism to the point that her mother petitions the Court for the custody of Kate’s son, Jake.
Fifteen years after her capture of Peter Conway, Kate is still fighting to stay sober, and at the same time praying that serial killers are more a matter of nurture rather than nature. If serial killers are born, not made, then Jake, her precious son, now 14, is at risk.
Peter Conway is forbidden by the court to write to or in any contact with Jake until the boy is 16. What if Jake is charmed by Peter? What if he is fascinated by Peter to the point of making excuses for what his father has done?
Kate receives an email from Malcolm Murray and his wife, Sheila, an elderly couple whose young daughter, Caitlyn, disappeared in 1990, 20 years ago. The Murrays believe that their daughter was Peter Conway’s first victim, one who was never found.
A young classmate of Caitlyn’s, who moved to Australia before Caitlyn’s disappearance and was therefore never questioned by police, tells Mr. Murray that she saw Caitlyn with a man whom she described as looking like Peter Conway.
The police refuse to reopen the case, telling Mr. Murray there is still not enough evidence. The Murrays are desperate to find their daughter to give her a Christian burial, and ask Kate to look into the case.
Kate agrees even though she has no authority, no access to police data bases. “She read the email again, and she knew she couldn’t ignore it. There was a part of her that would always be a police officer.”
As Kate reads her email 30 miles away her friend, Forensic Pathologist Alan Hexham, is examining a murder victim dumped on a river bank. “Something about the way the body lay set off alarm bells for Alan.”
The alarm bells grow louder when Alan finds that the cord used to strangle the young girl is tied in a monkey fist’s Knot—exactly like the knot always used by Peter Conway, the Nine Elms Cannibal.
“He wouldn’t have recognized it as a monkey’s fist if all the other pieces of the crime hadn’t been in place: the bites, how she was posed, the torn-off face.”
Alan immediately contacts Kate, who goes to the morgue to give her opinion on the unknown victim. “There’s no doubt in my mind. Look at it all. It’s the Nine Elms Cannibal.”
Peter Conway is locked up in a high security mental institution where he will live for the rest of his life. That leaves a copycat—a copycat who is duplicating Peter Conway’s murders down to the last detail, including the dump sites.
The copycat is Peter Conway’s biggest, most loyal fan, and Conway knows it. Thanks to his mother, one of the genre’s most despicable maternal characters, Peter receives messages from the copycat.
Peter, who rivals Hannibal Lecter in viciousness but without his sophistication, is waiting for his biggest fan to keep his promise: deliver the Nine Elms Cannibal from captivity into another identity and another life.
With the help of Tristan Harper, her graduate assistant at the university, Kate methodically hunts the copycat, while at the same time continuing the search for Caitlyn Murray’s grave. When Kate learns of Peter Conway’s escape, she knows that now she and Jake will be the hunted.
Robert Bryndza’s characterizations are spot on, especially that of Kate Marshall. Kate is conflicted: wanting her career back, an impossibility, and struggling to always put her son’s wellbeing first above every other concern. As an alcoholic, she had not always done that.
The copycat is empty of compassion, empathy, or love, but Bryndza doesn’t quite convince one that the copycat’s psychopathology is the result of nurture. Many have lacked parental attention without becoming psychopaths.
Peter Conway’s character is the better argument for nurture as the source of his pathological behavior. To compare and contrast Peter and the copycat as psychopaths is one way to determine which is real and which the mirror image.
A compelling read with an intricate plot, a strong setting, and characters so real they are almost live human beings—although Peter and the copycat are the opposite of human, so we are thankful that they are, after all, only fiction.