The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

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The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A book which pulls you in and won't let you go. It's set in Cork and revolves around the Nothing Man who raped and killed eighteen years ago and now has to deal with a witness he left alive. An excellent read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2020
Publisher: Corvus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1838951061

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When we first meet Jim Doyle, he's about to get a shock. He's security at a supermarket and he's watching a woman who is acting suspiciously. She has a book tucked under her arm and he wonders if she's planning to pay for it. Suddenly it drops to the floor with the spine splayed upwards. Nothing Man by Eve Black, is the title. Why is Jim shocked? Well, Jim was - is - the Nothing Man who, until eighteen years ago raped and killed. The author of the book was twelve years old when Jim raped her mother, and then killed her, her father and her seven-year-old sister, Anna.

After the deaths, Eve went to live with her grandmother, Colette. They hid away at Spanish Point in case the Nothing Man should find Eve and remedy the fact that he left a job unfinished. After Colette's death Eve struggled for a long time - and then she decided that she wasn't going to let this defeat her. She was going to write the book of the Nothing Man - the story of all his attacks, not just the one which left her orphaned. And so, the stories of Alice O'Sullivan, Christine, Kiernan, Linda O'Neill, Marie Meara and Martin Connolly were told in the hope that someone, somewhere would remember something which would bring the killer to justice. And when it was published the subtitle was A survivor's search for the truth.

That's what Jim is now realising: Eve is a survivor, and she's just called him a loser. He was a member of An Guarda Síochána when he was active as the Nothing Man. He even knew Sgt Edward Healey (who helped Eve with the work on the book) but you wouldn't say that he was a friend. Jim didn't have friends: nobody was good enough for him and he knew that he was special, better than them all. It's going to take some work, but he's going to have to finish what he started eighteen years ago.

I'd never read anything from Catherine Ryan Howard before, but back in 2016 we reviewed Distress Signals and concluded that this lady could certainly write. That seemed like a good reason to try The Nothing Man and I'm delighted that I did. The location - the west coast of Ireland is brought to life superbly. It was an Ireland which took me back to The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan and it made me want to go there.

The characters are excellent. Eve comes off the page particularly well: you feel horror about the trauma she suffered and the way that it was extended by the steps her grandmother had to take to keep her safe. You understand how she let herself go after her grandmother's death and admire the way that she stepped out from all that mess and decided that her world was going to be run her way and she wasn't going to be defined by the what happened to her. There's nothing to like, or admire, about Jim Doyle, although he would disagree with you. There's dark humour in the way that he imagines dealing with his 26-year-old boss at the supermarket, but Jim's a dangerous man who has probably only got away with what he's done because he was a garda. We know whodunnit, so there's no great revelation to be had, but Ryan Howard is a master of suspense and you're not certain how it's going to work out until the final pages. It was a superb read and I'd like to thank the publishers for making a review copy available to the Bookbag.

For another 'book within a book', we can recommend Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi. I had my doubts about reading another book so soon after I'd finished the exceptional Eight Detectives but The Nothing Man stood up well.

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