Author: Daniel Cole
Published: February 23rd, 2017
Length: 384 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781409168744
Detective Sergeant William Oliver Layton-Fawkes’ reinstatement to the force is already fraught with controversy. After all, “Wolf” was suspended following his attempt to murder a man, even though that man was found not-guilty of a series of horrific immolation killings. Of course, Wolf was right, and that same man was caught over the body of yet another victim some months later. After spending many months in a psychiatric ward, and with many of his colleagues now keenly aware, on some level, of his violent and obsessive tendencies, Wolf’s partner introduces him to their newest case: One body, six victims. The unknown killer has stitched six victims together with a finger pointing towards Wolf’s apartment and now a death clock counts down a list of further victims. With the pressure building, Wolf’s obsessive behaviour starts to rise to the surface again. To make matters worse, Wolf’s name is the last on the list.
Ragdoll by Daniel Cole delivers on exactly what it promises to be: a crime-thriller laced with brutal and macabre killings fit to satisfy anyone’s serial killer fetish. If this was all it had to offer that might have been enough, but Ragdoll manages to do more than I anticipated with what it had. Firstly, though the book is entitled “Detective William Fawkes #1,” the novel relies heavily on an ensemble cast of characters to develop and deepen its serial killer games. Alongside the obvious anti-hero of Wolf, there is his endearingly sour former-partner Emily Baxter, his I-am-two-years-from-retirement new partner Finley, Baxter’s new partner and newest squad member Edmunds, their frustrated but accommodating chief Simmons, Wolf’s ex-wife and cut-throat journalist Andrea, and a smattering of further secondary characters. Each of these characters brings a layering of perspectives, motives, vices, struggles, and emotions into the story that bolsters what otherwise would have been a generic plot.
Ragdoll is gruesome at times, but it also manages to be surprisingly funny. And not in the style of gallows humour that would normally crop up in a crime-thriller to signal that these horrific events are “just another day at the office” for the detectives and officers involved. The writing style often strays into comedic territory that is entirely more situational and personal. This is jarring at first but quickly becomes a thoroughly enjoyable element of the reading. The humour doesn’t take away from the narrative, as I thought it would at first, but instead offers a reprieve from the story being overly serious or brooding while juxtaposing well against the horror.
There is a deep cynicism to Ragdoll that runs close to the surface in almost every aspect. Whether it’s the city of London, the state of journalism, the reliability of the court, the professionalism of the police force, or the strength of human connections, Ragdoll seems determined to undermine any sentimentality or notions of goodness that might be brought in by the reader. As Finlay puts it, “remember the good old days when people had the decency to just walk up to someone and shoot the bastard?” (62). But since the thrill of the novel is really more about “how will the killer get to the next victim” rather than “will they catch him before he does,” it makes sense that the novel would be so entrenched in this cynical view.
Where Ragdoll hits a point of diminishing returns is on this point of cynicism and how some of the characters choose to deal with it. There is certainly something intriguing and even strongly compelling about characters who are both likeable and morally reprehensible. The disconcerting place this puts the reader is perhaps the area where Ragdoll’s uniqueness shines brightest. But from this also emerges the problem: Detective William Fawkes as a series isn’t about saving people or stopping evil or upholding the law. It’s about revenge and punishment. It’s about drawing the reader into a world where violence being inflicted on those who deserve it—according to one man’s holier-than-thou perspective—is the payoff for their attention.