A Thousand Cuts: A Novel

Image of A Thousand Cuts: A Novel
Release Date: 
January 24, 2011
Penguin Books
Reviewed by: 

Across the “pond” and beyond, A Thousand Cuts, by Londoner Simon Lelic not only emulates the headlines, it dissects them by exploring the views and theories of those observers and amateur detectives sometimes known as “Monday morning quarterbacks.” One cannot review the content of this novel without also reviewing the unique writing style of its author.

School shootings; a sniper sits atop a building; a senseless suicide by hanging: teenagers all. Is nothing sacred anymore? Is there no safe place to hide? What chronic illness permeates society and creates such monstrous happenings? Not coincidence, declares police detective Lucia May—not just a psychic break. At whatever personal cost, she delves into the underlying evil that spawns such horrendous actions, until the dawning of realization when she becomes aware that she, too, has fallen into the same human trap.

Through clever plotting with use of terse monologues, and multiple narrators ranging from cagey teenagers to gossipy secretaries and cynical teachers, Lelic guides Detective May into the depths of school bullying, administrative neglect, and peer disregard, while one weak soul crashes and burns. In his ashes, he leaves the remains of three children and one adult. Opposing orders of her superiors, Lucia May trudges forward to uncover the cruel and vicious actions that pushed the architect of the monstrosity into action.

Questions haunt Lucia throughout the case. Why did the young man not ask for help? Why was help not forthcoming from other teachers or the headmaster? Why did students not report the bullying when they became victims? Why does the omniscient headmaster continue to deny the school has a problem? Her questions, finally answered in what should have been the safety of her office, underscore the reality of being the only woman working in a man’s world, and fiercely strike home. Then and only then does she understand.
With understanding comes resolution, and Lucia takes the only action available to her rather than turning her head as others have done.

Simon Lelic gives life to strong, easily identifiable characters with distinct personalities, using minimal description and atypical dialogue. Never a word wasted, as he easily switches points of view from the first person recounting of actions and events to the third person narration of the investigation. All the elements align to create a terrifying tale of the ills of society. A Thousand Cuts is a must-read for all those inquisitive minds looking for the causes of the actions—the karmic reaction, perhaps.