First published back in August of 2006, British horror author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Dying Words’ followed on from an incredibly impressive line of well-received hard-hitting horror and thriller titles.
There was absolutely no way that Detective Inspector David Birch was going to let the man they were chasing get away. They’d been hunting him down for eight long months now. Having raped and killed a twelve-year-old girl, there was no way that they’d give up the hunt for him. And at last they finally had him in their sights. But when the fugitive, Malcolm Sanderson, is finally cornered, the coward tries to take a hostage to help his escape. But Birch is having none of it. He’s come too far. This monster needs to go down…and now. And so, when he’s given the chance, he takes it. And shoves Sanderson onto the live rail of a Tube track – killing the murdering bastard instantly.
Because of his actions, Birch is brought in front of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Adrian Stowe who duly suspends him. But when fifty-four-year-old book editor, Frank Denton, is found dead having been savagely butchered in his own home, Birch is back in the game.
The Detective Inspector has his hands full with the murder; the killer having left very little in the way of leads for them to go by. Nothing was taken in the property and there were no signs of any forced entry. And no signs of how the killer left. However, Denton’s body was found amidst the shredded remains of eight different books.
And the pressure intensifies when the butchered remains of forty-two-year-old critic and reviewer, Donald Corben, is found in his own apartment. The body once again surrounded by torn up books. The pathologist confirms that the same individual is responsible for the murder.
Odd links between the two attacks begin to emerge. Two of the books that were shredded by the killer were the same title. One is twenty-three-year-old bestselling biographer Megan Hunter’s latest book - ‘The Seeds Of The Soul’. Essentially a non-fiction exploration on the thirteenth-century writer and philosopher Giacomo Cassano, whose teachings led to the Catholic Church making him a deaf mute so that he may never pass on his beliefs again.
The other book is the latest horror novel from John Paxton – ‘The Fairground Phantoms’. A book full of violence, sex, horror and more violence. Another of the author’s visceral offerings which would no doubt be lapped up by an eager audience once again. But what is it that ultimately connects these two fundamentally different titles? And with the savage death toll rising – Birch needs to act fast to get to the bottom of the brutal series of murders. Work out how these horrific crimes are taking place, and somehow finally bring the rampage to an end…
With Hutson’s ‘Dying Words’ what we have in its absolute essence is the classic ‘locked room’ crime scenario, whereby murders are being committed within locked rooms – with no visible signs of how the killer got in or indeed left. It’s a textbook mystery setup. But of course, Hutson ramps-up the intensity of the murders and adds a whole new ‘horror’ element to the plot. That’s what he does. That’s Hutson!
And indeed the tale sets off at a mile-a-minute pace, instantly engaging the reader with the desperate chase of rapist and murderer, Malcolm Sanderson. Expect nothing short of the usual cheesy ‘Hutson thriller’ thrills and spills, along with some effortlessly over-exaggerated action sequences and delightfully laughable dialogue. On top of all this Hutson throws in the principal protagonist, Detective Inspector David Birch, who’s is basically a reincarnation of his ever popular Sean Doyle character. It has to be said that from early on ‘Dying Words’ seems set to be another edge-of-the-seat barrage of high-adrenaline entertainment.
And then Hutson slams on the breaks. With the action of the first handful of short and snappy chapters out of the way, Hutson begins upon the tale’s main plot. Essentially this appears to be a clumsy and weakly constructed horror-cum-mystery; with the horrific murders taking place adding only the smallest hints of tension.
As the bodies begin to mount up, the reader is kept guessing as to who the murderer is and how the victims are being killed in such horrific ways without this brutal killer being caught. However, the truth behind this becomes painfully obvious after just the first couple of murders – resulting in a somewhat grating run up to the eventual revelation. Indeed, the (quite frankly atrocious) finale seems such a long time in coming, but when it does eventually arrive, it’s too much of a corny out-of-date ‘The Funhouse’ (1980) set-up that it simply hammers the final disappointing nail into the coffin that is surely Hutson’s weakest novel thus far.
Instead of playing on his undoubted strengths at keeping together a high-octane page turner, Hutson instead adopted a much calmer pace – clearly putting more weight on the mystery element than we are used to with his work. Sadly, this is certainly not his forte – and sweet Jesus does it show. The result is a tale that staggers along at a tired and grumbling pace – only succeeding in building upon any exciting tension at the very last possible minute.
From a very hopefully beginning, what eventually transpires is a watered-down supernatural thriller that appearss to have been rushed out from a very weak and unfinished idea. Not since reading Hutson’s novel ‘Heathen’ (1992) have I been so despairingly disappointed with one of his novels.
The novel runs for a total of 358 pages.
© DLS Reviews