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The Cleaner by Paul Cleave

The Cleaner - Paul Ansdell, Paul Cleave

Note: This book can be read as part of the bigger series of crime novels that all take place in Christchurch, New Zealand. Some characters from those other novels are mentioned here but you don’t have to have read them to understand the context. It works just fine as a stand alone.

As we all know from the book’s description, Joe is the Christchurch Carver, and 7 killings have been attributed to him. But he only killed 6, so he is determined to hunt down this copy cat killer and punish him for overstepping. Right away, I had a little evil chuckle over the idea that serial killers have a code of polite behavior among themselves. Later on, the reader meets Melissa, another killer, and she’s pretty miffed at Joe for breaking her ideas of polite behavior as well. Obviously, things would go much easier for Joe if he had a rolodex of the local killers in Christchurch and could coordinate such things. Alas, to be a serial killer is to be a loner.

Joe likes to play the mentally retarded janitor and that’s how he got the job at the Christchurch police headquarters. This allows Joe all sorts of access to the investigation into his killings. For much of the book, no one is aware of what Joe is. Detective Schroeder, who we’ve seen in other Christchurch crime novels by this author, is unaware of Joe’s real abilities. Even his mother, who is verbally and sometimes physically abusive, finds him subservient. It was a delicious kind of agony to know that Joe is this vicious killer!

The author did a great job of balancing the story – I wanted Joe caught, but not so soon or not so easily because I wanted an interesting tale. The violence is, for the most part, referred to instead of portrayed in grim detail. Though there is one scene where Joe suffers a significant injury that was graphic but since he’s the evil serial killer, I was fine with that.

Joe’s mom was excellently done. She’s into memorizing the grocery store ads and puzzles and she’s not a very good cook but thinks she is. In some eerie ways, she reminded me of my own mom. Not that I’m going to turn into a serial killer because of it or anything.

Then there’s Sally, a maintenance worker at the police precinct. She had a brother who passed away and Sally becomes a bit fixated on Joe, wanting to help him. She plays a key role later on in the book that I won’t spoil, but her character went from being pretty mellow boring to rather interesting. She’s got her own hang ups and parental issues.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is that I kept questioning whether or not Joe was mildly retarded (and he just didn’t accept that) or if he was really delusional about some things. He’s obviously a planner and can blend in when he decides to do so. I liked that I kept questioning his IQ throughout the book. Over all, it was pretty thrilling to watch a serial killer go on the hunt for another killer, working outside legal limits.

Narration: Paul Ansdell was, once again, a good fit for the main character. He had a variety of British accents, making it easy to keep the characters straight. His female voices were believable and I especially liked his eerie crazy voice for Melissa. He did a great job switching between regular Joe and retarded Joe.