'Welcome to Edinburgh. Murder capital of Europe.'
This book is, as you can guess from the line above, a story about murder set in Edinburgh. Perfect Prey by Helen Fields takes the horror of crime and murder and twists it to focus on the dark capabilities that lie within the depths of the Internet. I'm sure we're all aware of the dangers that lurk on the web, particularly with the growth of social media and communication apps that make it so easy to connect with others. However, Fields is able to produce something more horrifying, an aspect of the Internet away from social media that affects everyone... and we don't even realise it.
Imagine living your life as you do today. You head to work, you do your job, you see your friends, you may even donate to charity every so often. Then, you are targeted to be murdered. You have no idea why. You may not even know it's about to happen until it's too late. Here's the kicker: you are not chosen explicitly by name but by a mere attribute of your life. It could be your job, it could be the way you are around your friends, and it could also be the fact that you donate to charity. How is this coordinated? It's simple. The Internet.
You're thrown into the gross reality of this story the second it starts. Luc Callanach, a Detective Inspector and the protagonist, is at the scene of a murder. It is determined pretty early it is a calculated attack with a lot of thought and planning. A man has had his stomach cut open in the middle of a festival and, although there were heaps of people around, not one of them saw anything. It was only a couple of tourists who noticed him bleeding, but at that point the attacker was gone. The gruesome and horrific circumstance of this death only foreshadows what's to come, so you should strap yourselves in.
It becomes more complex when not long after the first murder a second one occurs. This time it's a more brutal scene (if you can imagine something more brutal than being cut almost in half). Someone crushed by a chest of drawers. This is where we see from the perspective of Ava Turner, another Detective Inspector. Two murders in Edinburgh in such a short time frame is unheard of, which is why both Luc and Ava are determined to find out what's happening as quickly as possible before people start thinking there's a serial killer on the loose.
As we delve more into this story and into the political setting of a police office, we begin to see interesting relationships between the characters and the subtle hints of darker pasts in each one of them. If you have read Fields' previous instalment in the D.I. Callanach series, you'll probably know of some of the references. However, if you read this book without any prior knowledge of the characters, you are still enveloped into this world of mystery that is more complicated than it seems.
There's references to Callanach's relationship with his mother, sexual tension between the two DIs, family secrets that lead to divisive relationships, and a false rape allegation that haunts one of the characters every day. These complexities emphasise the horrific circumstances of the murders and show that, even in the midst of such disgusting acts, life will continue to wind us up tightly into it's unpredictable drama.
As the two DIs work to solve their separate cases, there's another happening in the background. A team specialised for cyber-related cases are on the trail of a hacker who has done a Robin Hood-like act by stealing money out of accounts of the rich and giving it to the poor. This doesn't seem to have much in the way of relating to everything else going on, until one clue leads Luc into the rabbit hole of cyber crime.
It all becomes a race against the clock to ensure no one else is murdered horrifically. They must find their murderer, even if it means breaking the law to do so.
A story about cold-blooded and calculated murder motivated through the Internet, Perfect Prey highlights the dangers of the cyber world and the unknown corners known as darknet.
What I thought
I don't usually read crime fiction. It's not because I don't like it. I'm actually not overly sure why I don't read more of it (it's probably because I get spooked really easily). Honestly, I thought this was a very interesting and enjoyable book to read. The character's dynamics and the way they interacted with each other was very believable. The pressure exuded in the text about finding the killers really had me on the edge questioning every clue that was found.
There were times I felt a bit annoyed at the characters and their actions. However, this is not a bad thing as I assume those feelings were meant to be evoked. The sudden turn in a relationship and the animosity that builds between the two DIs had me really riled up, and I could imagine myself forcing my way into the story and telling them both to get a grip. I can understand if this might not be enjoyable to read for some but having that kind of involvement in any story always means that I'm going to like it.
Then, there's the murders themselves. I think the most horrifying part of this story is how I can believe that something like this could happen. Even though the scenes are absolutely horrific and it's hard to believe anyone could do that, the way it comes about and the organisation through the use of the Internet makes me think that it is truly possible for things like this to happen.
Obviously, just like any crime story, there's the whole 'who dunnit?' aspect. This story is interesting in that regard because you eventually get to see from the perspective of the murderers. It's at this point the 'who dunnit?' frame of mind shifts from 'who's doing the murders?' to 'who's organising them?'
I think this was probably the let down of the story for me. I don't want to spoil this for anyone who wants to read it, but I do feel like I expected more from the build up. I can understand the use of red herrings but I feel like with the intensity of it all I needed something that shocked me. However, I can understand the tactic of choosing this person since it can provide more emphasis to the idea that everyone uses the Internet, and therefore anyone can do something like this. I don't know, I guess I expected to be sitting back in my seat gasping at the unmasking of this mysterious person.
Overall, I think this is an absolutely fantastic crime story that focuses on modern technology and the crazy capabilities it has. As you might have guessed, I did not know this was part of a series because this book was given to me by a friend who recommended I read it. I think, based on that fact alone, this is a great book because you don't necessarily need to read the previous instalment to understand what's happening. I think it's an amazing talent to be able to write a series where the books can stand-alone if need be, so I am super impressed.
I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in the dark capabilities of the Internet or crime involving modern technologies. With how gruesome it can get and the inclusion of quite mature scenes, I would not recommend this to a younger audience. I would also recommend this if you're someone who, like me, hasn't had much involvement in the crime fiction world. I think it's a fantastic tester and I can't wait to read more crime fiction after this experience!
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.