Michael Robotham


"Shatter"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAR 22, 2009)

"The sound of a mind breaking. It's not a loud crack like when bones shatter or a spine fractures or a skull collapses. And it's not something soft and wet like a broken heart. It's a sound that makes you wonder how much hurt can be visited upon one person...."

The protagonist of Michael Robotham's Shatter is Professor Joe O'Loughlin, a clinical psychologist who teaches behavioral psychology at the University of Bath. He has been married for twenty years to Julianne, a beautiful and successful high-flyer in the corporate world, and they dote on their two daughters, twelve-year old Charlie and three-year-old Emma. Unfortunately, Joe's health has been deteriorating since he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease four years ago. In spite of tremors, twitches, and other alarming symptoms, he is determined not to let his illness define him.

Joe's fortunes take a turn for the worse when he is asked to talk a jumper down from the Clifton Suspension Bridge. When he reaches the site, Joe sees an unidentified female standing in the rain, naked except for a pair of red shoes. She is conducting an intense conversation on a mobile phone. The potential suicide barely notices Joe's presence and is not interested in anything that he has to say. This disturbing encounter foreshadows future similar incidents that will challenge O'Loughlin's ability to cope, both professionally and personally.

The villain turns out to be a psychopath who knows how to bend minds. He boasts, "You've got to be smart. You've got to know people--what frightens them, how they think, what they cling to when they're in trouble." He uses his considerable intellect and patience to threaten and intimidate those he hates. When the police, led by the tough and aggressive Detective Inspector Veronica Cray, finally comprehend what is going on, they desperately try to locate and apprehend the killer. Joe and his buddy, retired DI Vincent Ruiz, lend a hand in the investigation, but they are stymied by a phantom who strikes at will and escapes with ease. What is his motive and what will his endgame be? In spite of Julianne's protests that he is endangering his family, Joe refuses to back off.

Shatter has some powerful and wrenching moments, but it is not an unqualified success. Many readers will be skeptical that law enforcement officials would allow a civilian psychologist and a retired detective to attend briefings, read case notes, interview witnesses, and speak to the media. In addition, the identity of the perpetrator, "a bully, a sadist, and [a] control freak," is given away too early. He is a one-dimensional monster, straight out of central casting. Another plot point that might raise a few eyebrows is whether this individual's methods of mind control would work on otherwise confident, poised, and worldly women. Although the conclusion has its share of excitement, it is too predictable to be truly harrowing.

On the plus side, Joe is a sympathetic and caring person as well as an accomplished psychologist who constructs a fairly accurate behavioral profile of the suspect. At first, his marriage to the lovely Julianne appears solid, but it is actually developing ever-widening fissures; Robotham depicts both their tender and wrenching encounters with skill and compassion. The dialogue is generally clever and witty, and there are are some intriguing secondary characters, such as Darcy Wheeler, a mature sixteen-year whom Joe takes under his wing after her mother's death. In spite of its flaws, Shatter is a workmanlike and fast-moving novel that should appeal to fans of psychological suspense.

  • Amazon readers rating: 4.5 starsfrom 10 reviews

 

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"Lost"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JAN 29, 2006)

“So I should be dead.  I always suspected that I would die suddenly.  It’s not that I’m particularly foolhardy but I have a knack for taking shortcuts.  Most people only die the once.  Now I’ve had two lives.  Throw in three wives and I’ve had more than my fair share of living.”

The first person narrator of Michael Robotham’s Lost is Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz of the London Metropolitan Police, a man who lives on the edge and makes his own rules.  One night, he is pulled out of the Thames after having been shot in the leg, and he nearly bleeds to death.  Eight days later, Ruiz emerges from a coma with no memory of the events surrounding the incident.  What was he doing floating in the water?  Who shot him and why?

One fact emerges.  On the night in question, Ruiz was working on a case that has never given him a moment’s peace.  Three years earlier, a seven-year old girl named Mickey Carlyle disappeared, and although a suspect was convicted of murdering the child, Ruiz has a gut feeling that Mickey is still alive.  With the help of his good friend, clinical psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin, Ruiz slowly reconstructs the events that led to his near death experience.  He throws himself into the Carlyle case and this time, he is determined to discover what really happened to Mickey.  Although his boss wants him to back off and stop making waves, Ruiz is determined to keep pushing until he finds the answers that he seeks.

Lost is a complicated novel, in which our hero desperately tries to remember the past while he gathers information from everyone who might be able to shed light on Mickey’s fate.  Could a neighbor have seen something on the night the child was abducted?  What role does the girl’s gangster father, Aleksei Kuznet, play in this drama?  As Ruiz moves closer to the truth, he once again puts himself in the line of fire.

This is a familiar tale about a tormented detective who cannot rest until he solves the case that got away.  Ruiz is a maverick, a man who acts first and thinks later.  When he is in a joking mood, he can be quite witty.  Although Ruiz is likeable enough, I prefer the more cerebral Joe O’Loughlin, who plays a secondary role here as Ruiz’s friend and confidante.  Also worth noting is Ali, a spunky female DC who risks her job and her life to help Ruiz.  Lost is entertaining and engrossing and the characters are well developed.  However, the book would have been even better had Robotham constructed a more streamlined and realistic plot.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 43 reviews
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"Suspect"

(Reviewed by Sebastian Fernandez JUN 12, 2005)

Julianne asked me if I thought it unusual that a woman I hadn't seen in five years is murdered and then the police ask me to help identify her. Glibly, I told her that coincidences were just a couple of things happening simultaneously. Now the coincidences are starting to pile up. What are the chances of Bobby being referred to me as a patient? Or that Catherine would phone my office on the evening she died? When do coincidences stop being coincidences and become a pattern?

I believe that the well publicized literary thriller debut of Michael Robotham will not disappoint most readers; it is good, though flawed. The author delivers a complex and intricate plot, which keeps us interested throughout the novel, but occasionally shows his inexperience, when the twists and turns become excessive. The title of the book gives us a clear idea of where the story is going, but the way in which the action evolves in order to get there is a tad too intricate.

One of the aspects that Robotham handles best is the pace of the story, speeding up the action when needed, as a tool to keep us hooked. As a result I found myself reading the novel in only a couple of sittings, always promising myself I would stop for a while after the chapter I was reading ended, and finding myself breaking the promise once and again. The author uses this particularly well at the start of the book, plunging into the action at full speed in order to grab the reader's attention right away.

Joseph O' Loughlin is a psychoanalyst, who besides having his own practice helps the police occasionally as a negotiator. The novel begins with him trying to prevent a seventeen-year-old kid from jumping from the roof of a building. The boy is terminally ill as a result of a brain tumor; so right away we get to experience Joseph's ability to deal with urgent and delicate situations, and get a glimpse of his more humane side. It is hard to not like this character. He carries a normal life, with a beautiful wife, who succeeds in her efforts to remain young through a combination of yoga, Pilates and circuit training, and a lovely eight-year old daughter that goes by the name of Charlie.

But not everything is as good as it looks, since Joseph is suffering from Parkinson's disease and is afraid to tell others, or even broach the topic in depth with his wife. He is trying to find solace in his job and his community service, which help keep his mind away from his own issues. For example, he delivers speeches tor a group of prostitutes on the dangers they have to face in their profession, and on what is the best way to avoid these dangers or handle them if absolutely necessary. It is during one of these sessions, he learns that the police have found the dead body of what they believe was a prostitute. The detective in charge requests Joseph's help with the investigation and he agrees to lend a hand.

This is when things start to get complicated, and the author in some moments goes astray with too many coincidences popping up simultaneously. The dead woman is one of Joseph's former patients, Catherine McBride, who stopped seeing him after he had to terminate the relationship because she had a crush on him. Now, Joseph is not only professionally involved in the case, but also personally, and he has a current patient that seems to be connected to the case too.

When evidence from the past begins to surface and detective Ruiz starts seeing Joseph as a suspect, we are treated to an exciting mystery that keeps us guessing every step of the way until its conclusion. Since I criticized the vast amount of twists and turn, I also have to state that the way in which Robotham presents the main characters in the novel is a big plus. I am saying this because the author breaks away from the pattern we see so frequently in mysteries when the main character is the epitome of good and has to battle evil and succeed. In this case we get a main character with flaws like most people, and who has to deal with them as best as he can.

Overall, I believe this is a successful debut, and I am sure experience will help this author in providing his readers with excellent novels in the future. The raw materials are there, he just needs a little polishing to make them shine more. Those people looking for a fast-paced mystery should seriously consider giving Suspect a try.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 38 reviews

 



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About the Author:

Michael RobothamMichael Robotham was born in 1960. He is a former investigative journalist having worked in Australia, Britain and Africa. He began his journalism career working for an afternoon newspaper in Sydney, Australia and later moved to London where he became a senior feature writer for The Mail on Sunday and later as a contributor to The Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and Tatler.

In 1993 he quit journalism to become a ghostwriter, collaborating with politicians, pop stars, psychologists, adventurers and sports people to write their autobiographies. Twelve of these non-fiction titles have been UK's Sunday Times bestsellers with combined sales of more than 2 million copies.

Michael now lives on Sydney, Australia's northern beaches, with his wife and three daughters.

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