First published back in February of 1998, British author Shaun Hutson’s novel ‘Purity’ once again steered away from his usual blood ‘n’ guts horror, instead choosing to adopt a gritty serial killer plot focusing on mystery, tension and suspense.

DLS Synopsis:
Amy Watson had to put up with a hell of a lot of weirdos as part of her job.  But she loved it.  At twenty-eight-years-old she had already done well for herself.  Having worked as a model for seven years, she now spent her time as a late-night radio presenter talking and listening to the various oddball callers that would litter the airwaves with their thoughts on the problems with society.  And she certainly didn’t shy away from these controversial subjects.  No matter how sordid, in-your-face, or challenging the topic – she let her callers say their mind and then just moved on to the next.

The radio show’s producer, thirty-six-year-old Mike Osborne knew that it was pretty much just Amy that kept the station going.  She had hundreds of fans, a fair number of which would sometimes verge on the problematic.  But that sort of thing came with the territory.

However when a caller identifying himself as Peter from Muswell Hill phones in, Osborne begins to get worried.  The caller was clearly an obsessive fan; but when he asked if Amy had received a package from him – the situation had the potential to get nasty very quickly.  However, when Amy opens up the package on-air, despite Osborne’s request not to do so, it merely reveals a semen stained set of lingerie.

But it’s not until Amy is being harassed on-air by a jealous and vindictive woman that the ‘Peter from Muswell Hill’ matter becomes a much more serious concern.  Following the woman’s insulting comments towards Amy, Peter is back again on the line, but it’s the few words he says that sends shivers down Amy’s spine.  Three small words showing his devotion to the radio presenter - “I’ll kill her”.

Meanwhile, the radio show’s researcher, twenty-six-year-old Joanne Parker is having issues with her younger brother, Billy, who’s currently staying with her.  Since their brother, Danny, died in Bangkok following a drunken brawl in a bar, Billy has gone completely the rails.  Now he’s coming home at all times of the night, and his income is clearly from illegal activities.  But there’s no escaping from that one terrifying issue that is overshadowing his life.

And whilst all this is going on, it’s been emerging that a potential serial killer is stalking the streets of London; picking off undesirable victims from the grime of the urban city streets.  The body of twenty-one-year-old Claire Glover is the first to be found; strangled to death with a length of cord.  After examining the corpse, pathologist Phillip Barclay reveals that the young prostitute had cervical cancer at the time of her death.

Next in line was nineteen-year-old Tessa Carr, just three days later.  The prostitute’s body had been found within half a mile of the previous victim; similarly strangled to death.  Carr had been suffering from urethritis and syphilis at the time of her murder.

Then the thuggish dealer and thief, Harvey Dwyer, is found dead in his flat, having been strangled and then his ulnar and radial arties had been literary ripped out from his track-marked arms.  Dwyer was found to have both septicaemia and hepatitis B.

Detective Inspector David Grant is struggling to make any ground with catching the serial killer, who the media and public claim is cleaning up the infected scum of the streets.  And as the bodies pile up, the need to catch the killer becomes more pressing. Everyone’s talking about the serial killer; Amy Watson’s airwaves are flooded with people calling in siding with the killer’s motivations.  But Amy has other matter on her mind.  Her neighbour, Jake Webber, who she’s been getting on so well, worries her.  And that niggling feeling just keeps on gnawing away…

DLS Review:
The tale starts off with an instant barrage of in-your-face comments and opinions, thrust out into the public airwaves via Amy Watson’s call-in radio show.  As the calls keep bombarding both the reader and the first few chapters of the book, gradual details surrounding Watson, her attitude, and her past begin to slip in.  Watson is clearly not someone who will get upset at the drop of the hat.  She’s tough, she always has an opinion, she’s willing to listen to others, but she isn’t scared of challenging what they say.  And ultimately, on the show at least, she has the power of the last word.

And it’s not long before the incoming calls begin to edge towards something a bit more sinister.  We’re instantly guessing that one of them will turn out to be something more than just an obsessive fan.  And Peter from Muswell Hill is our prime candidate.  And then the murders start.

Instantly we’re thrust into a gritty serial killer thriller on the lines of David Fincher’s movie ‘Se7en’ (1995).  As the tale gradually unravels, so the murders begin to pile up.  However, unlike the vast majority of Hutson’s work, there’s surprisingly little violence and gore that go alongside the murders.  Instead we simply see the results of the crimes in cold hindsight.  And although the splatterpunk shock value has been purposefully left out of the equation, the storyline nevertheless cuts deep with a hard-hitting grimness.

Other than the lack of bloodshed and violent carnage, the novel is noticeably much more character-driven than the majority of the author’s other novels.  It still maintains the all-out grittiness of the likes of ‘Deadhead’ (1993), but with a much more character dominant stance.   Of course there’s still the classic Hutson cliffhangers ending each one of the short-sharp chapters, and there’s plenty of tension and suspense to get your teeth into; but the overall ‘action’ within the tale has been toned down to accommodate a far more involved element of mystery.

Like with his later novel ‘Compulsion’ (2001), the plot is decidedly geared towards something very real in essence.  It’s not exaggerated to an absolutely colossal degree, as are most of the author’s preceding offerings.  As such, the overall harshness of the events that are being depicted, are very possibly highlighted to such a degree due to this potential realism involved.  And that is where the tale cuts the deepest.

However, the most interesting idea behind the novel is Hutson’s decision to bring in a number of ‘possible suspects’; each of whom the reader is meant to believe could well be responsible for the string of murders.  Hutson plays this card particularly well, with the constant hints and mystery surrounding the true identity of our murderer cranking up the tension to a near-palpable degree.

Hutson has proved that he not just a one-trick-pony.  He can deliver an exciting, thrilling and gripping read, without needing to fall back upon his tried and tested safety-net of shovelling in the gore.  Not that a bit of blood ‘n’ guts is all that of a bad thing – but Hutson’s ‘Purity’ takes a different angle to delivering its entertainment.  And he pulls it off with surprising style.

The novel runs for a total of 346 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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