I recently discovered the author Matthew Pritchard when I read his post WW2 novel Werewolf for review via netgalley. It ended up on my list of favourites of the year. From a staggering 242 novels I picked just 20 fiction novels as favourites. When I am this impressed by an author I immediately go & seek out their other work. This led me to Sacrecrow!
Scarecrow by Matthew Pritchard 5/5*
Follow the road to murder…
Investigative reporter, Danny Sanchez, has lived eight years in Almeria, southern Spain, working for the British expat paper, Sureste News.
While working on his latest story – Kafkaesque bureaucracy leading to the demolition of an elderly couples’ home – a startling discovery is made: as the diggers begin to tear down the house, a decomposed body is revealed dangling between two walls, its head swathed in Gaffa Tape.
From this sinister beginning, Danny follows a trail of bodies that takes him back and forth between Spain and England, as he is led to revisit the first story he ever covered, the trial and conviction of the serial killer known as The Scarecrow.
But with that man behind bars, how can bodies bearing the same distinctive pattern of mutilation be turning up in Spain?
The Spanish police insist there is no connection – but then times are hard in Almeria and no one wants to admit a murderer is on the loose, and Danny finds himself struggling against corrupt bureaucracy, cowboy builders and a monstrous killer whose motives are so perverse as to defy description…
This novel is not for the faint hearted, I repeat definitely, not for the faint hearted! The novel is of the crime genre but it is extremely dark & edgy. It reminded me in a way of The Poet by Michael Connelly but the author gives it his own unique stamp!
The novel opens & we are instantly transported to Almeria Spain; investigative journalist Danny Sanchez is covering the unjust demolition of an elderly retired ex-pat couple’s villa. I liked that the author had featured something we do hear about occurring to ex-pat’s living abroad and found this added authenticity to the story. Danny is well known in the ex-pat community & we learn how such a community exists and operates in Spain. When the dust settles from the demolition a body is discovered amongst the rubbles and not just any body this one is wearing a gimp mask! The body is clearly that of a murder victim. But how did it get there? Why has someone been murdered in such a way? When the builder of the property is attacked with a hammer, Danny & his photographer Paco decide to dig a little deeper.
The builder Hacker & his 3 sons are by no means nice people. They are nasty, violent bullies whom have been terrorising the people of Spain for some time. They’re ex-pat’s themselves but with Rottweilers named Yorkshire & Ripper have done nothing to improve the image of the British. Danny & Paco discover that Alan Reade’s (Hacker’s plumber) villa is also rumoured to have a perfuse scent of death. Cue a little unethical detective work & another body is discovered. The body is covered in perverse clown make-up and appears to have experienced torture/humiliation prior to death. Who is sealing murder victims into walls? Is this the work of a serial killer? Why are the victims being tortured & humiliated in this way? Who is stalking the local community?
This reminds Danny of a previous case he has worked in England & quickly we are brought up to speed on the ‘Scarecrow killer’. Ishmael Vertaness is incarcerated in a high secure psychiatric facility in the UK after his spate of 5 murders. The Scarecrow humiliated, tortured, raped and emasculated his victims. He is rumoured to be on the autism spectrum but due to his failing mental health and abusive childhood, no-one can know with absolute certainty what made him do it. Four of the Scarecrow’s victims were known to be heterosexual men and not linked to the gay community. The Spanish authorities refuse to link the recent victims or have any belief in a link to a UK case. They do this in part to protect the image of Spain & prevent widespread possible international hysteria in relation to the crimes. Danny continues to gather information & evidence. This novel is heavily layered and thoroughly gripping reading! Danny decides that in order to gather more information he must return to the UK and work with old contacts. Did the Scarecrow have an accomplice? Will he agree to see Danny? Is he really autistic & how did this impact his criminal behaviour? With Danny’s return to the Uk we learn a more in-depth scope of the Scarecrow murders & the cross border murders. We learn more about the victim and hear the surviving family’s story’s. As stated before this novel covers the crimes of a violent, dominant & sadist serial killer. It covers a wide-range of issues from cocaine use to rent boys & even gay men who experience self-hatred. How do wealthy boys go from privilege to charging 20 euros a trick? What makes men vulnerable to rape?
But what it also covers without really trying to, is the real life modern day media reporting of covering stories with a possibly theme of gay sex or male rape. In the UK in August 2016 a man named Nigel Wilkinson was arrested & sentenced. Nigel was a serial rapist, whom posed as a male fitness photographer to allow him the trust & access to drug and rape many male victims. What is also frightening about Nigel is he was known to specifically target straight men. Even stating he liked to ‘take their masculinity’. Nigel was able to get away with his crimes for so long, that when finally caught he had amassed far too many victims. I think this novel highlights an area where the media fail & I applaud the author for covering such a crime, despite its dark nature. The issues/themes are covered with sensitivity.
The case builds and builds, with the Scarecrow & one of Hacker’s sons making threats, Paco’s daughter being kidnapped. Danny needs to uncover the killer & fast! The novel has a huge twist, that even I didn’t spot coming! It is one that will shock most readers & also reveals a dark theme not explored earlier. I read this in 24hrs & can’t praise it enough. If you seek a crime novel that breaks the mould, then this is the one for you! Scarecrow is available free for members of Kindle unlimited or available for the bargain price of £2.99 on Kindle E-book. It will scare you……………..You have been warned! 5/5*