Book Review – The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven
There are two kinds of good books:
The ones that you can’t let go, so you binge them, because you NEED to know!
And the ones that you can’t let go, but you force yourself not to binge them, because you don’t want it to end!
Considering that it’s been a couple of weeks since I started reading “The Puppet Show” it goes without saying, that we are dealing with the latter version. This is kind of a nuveau sensation to me, because usually I just binge and get frustrated when I’m done, because “why the fuck does good books have to end?!”.
First of all I need to thank Kerry at likeherdingcatsblog for this precious gift. It warmed my heart immensely and the read and entertainment was much needed, cathartic and thrilling. I might not ever have known about this book, if it hadn’t been for her generousity: so thank you, my dearest friend ♥
The Quick Recap
Washington Poe, a suspensed DI, is heading home on day after working on his stone fence, when he sees a visitor waiting for him. His former DS, now DI, Stephanie Flynn, wants him back working a new case, but he wants nothing of it. Not until she urges him to take a look at the file, to which he caves – what he sees, makes up his mind for him. He HAS to work the case!
The team, consisting of the very skilled Stephanie Flynn, the socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, the rogue Washington Poe and finally the talented, well-dressed Kylian Read, Poe’s childhood friend, as a liaison, are now chasing The Immolition Man – a serial killer who abducts, tortures and burns his victims, elderly rich men, alive. Using the stone circles as his stage, the terror spreads and pressure on the investigation to solve the case is on.
However, the Immolition Man tends to be one step ahead and solving the case proves to be an uphill battle with twists and detours at every other turn.
And that is ALL I’m going to say about the recap.
A Beautiful Friendship
One of the pillars of the book is the quirky but beautiful friendship that forms between Poe and Tilly. Poe as the rogue, intuitive detective, not afraid of breaking rules if it leads to the goal is faced with the rule-following Tilly’s social awkwardness – and while you’d think it could be a match in hell, it turns out to be a friendship that builds strength from their opposites. Together, each holding their pole, they create a magnetic field, that becomes a force to reckon with. Tilly being influenced by Poe, becomes a little more reckless and risk-taking and Poe reveals a caring and compassionate side, that we only see in relation to Tilly. It’s a lot more than the times he protects her from bullies. It’s in his way of acting around her, from the very beginning sensing that this person needs a different approach and rather than pushing her, he seeks advice from Flynn.
As driven rogue as Poe may seem, around Tilly he becomes a person, that a lot of people in minority groups would wish there were more of. Not saying, there aren’t ANY, because there ARE.
But there are times, as eg. an autistic, a gay bigender person (or whatever else minority you belong to), where it feels like there is not ENOUGH of those people. But then again – are there ever?
The friendship between Poe and Tilly becomes the unexpected force that tears through chains of command and unveils evidence that forms some of the twists is this novel.
Nerd Power – A Bit About Why I Love Tilly
One thing I need to address about Tilly is the fact that it would be so easy to write explicitly “autistic” or “aspergers” on the pages and leave it at that. It would be easy for a reader to automatically define her as being on the autistic spectrum.
But here’s the thing that I really like – as an autistic myself : not ONCE in the novel are we having a diagnosis shoved down our throats to convince us or to clarify.
For one; she might NOT be. Yes, the signs are there, obviously, but it does not mean she would be diagnosed as autistic.
Secondly; IF she is, and Craven is the only one knowing what the intend is, then NOT mentioning a diagnosis not only requires an author (Craven) to be a little more skilled at the character description (and he is!) – but it also shows, in the friendship with Poe, that in a truly inclusive world, labels don’t matter. It would not matter two inches of shit to Poe, if the condition of Tilly had a name. Oh my my my, that was the cathartic part for me.
I’ve read a few books by now about characters on the spectrum and some authors do tend to mention the diagnosis at every other page, to clarify, not because it’s important, but because – maybe – they don’t know how else to describe the situation. And while Tilly’s character still has elements of explicit characterisation, Craven also succeeds in SHOWING rather than TELLING. Examples of this could be the piercing gaze Tilly has, that usually makes Poe look away… Or how she turns to play a game, while a computer runs a test again, because she KNOWS how the result is going to be and don’t need to check the process.
If you have any previous encounters with my blog – or just my profiles on social media platforms – you will not be surpriced, when I say that I have a sort of connection to Tilly.
I grew up with social awkwardness and bullies – and if you think the bullies of Tilly are rude, I’m afraid to say that reality would shock you. They ARE rude, don’t get me wrong. But don’t think that there is any exageration in the scenes – there ain’t. To a point, I would say quite the contrary. That alone means I’m “team Tilly” all the way.
We even wear the same type of clothes – which kind of bothers me, because – “WTF, am I some kind of stereotype!?!”. Nah, kidding – but it’s funny as well as relatable.
What I particularly like is how she seems naïve – but she’s anything but, when shit matters. There are a lot of people with similar diagnoses to mine, to whom that is painfully and annoyingly relatable. Just in my last post on autism and falling in love I wrote about people sometimes talking to me like I’m a child – and there ARE points where I AM naive. Because I tend to believe what people tell me and I can be very literal about things. A trade that bestows a lot of my peers outthere, and usually manifests in social relations – but is really just the very tip of the iceberg. You see, a lot of us are also fact-seeking, curious and we have a hyperfocus that keeps our attention on point until we frecking get those answers – AND the background stories to it.
If and when in doubt – GOOGLE! (why I’m bringing up Google, will make even more sense when you read the book)
I’m too old to credit Google for my social skills – those are curtisy of the local libraries, books and films on TV. Although today on occasions when I find myself completely lost, I DO google for accepted reactions and behaviours in specific situations.
There IS a certain kind of “Nerd Power”, a strength in being quirky and a bit odd – you get to see things from other perspectives, from outside socially constructed boxes and feel emotions on dimensions, that is hard to explain. But the North Pole needs a South Pole. Magnetism connects the universe, keeps things organised so to speak – and a world full of nerds would not be good – and a world without would not have cell phones and internet (sorry, but it’s true). We need ALL of us, in all our diversities. We all bring something to the table.
Leading back to the constellation of Poe and Tilly (just realising I’m using his surname and her first name…unconscious preference slip?!) – they become a force because they join their individual strengths.
I do hope we get to see more of Tilly in the next books, because her progress would be interesting to follow.
Chasing a Monster – Catching a Human
The opening chapter will kill your appetite – or spark it, if you are a fan of barbeque!
There are no doubts, that the man looking at the victim is ice cold and meticulous. He becomes a shadow, a ghost and a monster that the team hunts and there are numerous times, where you think this person is going to emerge from the shadows and abduct one of our heroes in the story.
There are times, where you as a reader find yourself spit-swearing at the characters (or is that just me?), because “everybody knows that it’s when walking alone at night, contrary to better knowledge, that the scary stuff happens”. It’s just like watching a horror movie and the chased girl runs into a house with ONE door and no windows. COME ON!!! (and why is it always a girl, btw??) Or they start running UP a long staircase to a roof top – and wonder why they get caught!
Aaanywhooo, that is not how Craven plays it.
It’s a balance writing this, without revealing too much, but reading it made me think of a Danish book written by Bent Isager-Nielsen, the former chief of the National Crime Unit (Rejseholdet) in Denmark, called “One chases a beast and captures a human” (my direct translation). It shows how the different aspects of a serious crime, with the help of sensational media, turns an unknown murderer into a beast, a monster – and once caught, becomes a human being, dealt a life of major traumas. Note that it’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation – and in some cases, you truly end up feeling like there is no right way to achieve justice, because once the background story is revealed, you kind of get how a human being can go to such extremes and take another person’s life. Legally, we are left with conviction of homicide – and yet the conviction leaves some sort of bad taste in our mouths, because it doesn’t feel like FULL justice.
Let me put it this way – if you are not ready to sympathise with a fictional killer burning victims alive at any level – you might want to skip reading this book. Or maybe it’s just one more reason why you should read it.
I caught onto the killer before it was revealed. As in – “something is off with this person” – and at one point there’s a scene, where I simply stopped reading, because I felt I knew now – so I went back and re-read several scenes in the book to put the pieces together.
See, this is why I love crime and mystery novels – I’m chasing too. When I catch on to “who-dunnit”, I go back and re-examine the evidence so to speak. Unfortunately a lot of crime novels tend to miss a few points here, because something doesn’t make sense or simply contradicts the conclusion. Almost like the author only halfway through the book decided on who the guilty part should be and went back to correct some bits, but missed a few places.
This is not the case in The Puppet Show – at least not to my current knowledge. It doesn’t mean it’s obvious. It doesn’t mean that it’s boring. I just simply recognised a few patterns and remembered the right details. Sometimes I don’t. There is a background story as to why these specific patterns where recognised, but I can’t reveal any of that, without tipping the balance and spoiling the book.
I will however say – if you cannot have sympathy or empathy for the serial killer, we get to know as The Immolition Man, I don’t know what would make you sympathise with another human being. Craven manages to tell this bit of the story without force, without shoving something down our throats. The feelings and empathy is allowed to grow in their own due time and the best way to characterise the novel is to say it goes from a crime story of chasing a monstrous killer to an all too real tragedy.
So there you have it!
I don’t get to read as much as I want to, due to my mental health recovery and a brain that just won’t commit to the written word. So whenever I find a book, like The Puppet Show, that manages to hold my attention, is goes without saying that I’m a fan.
If you won’t take my word for it, then there are others who have reviewed The Puppet Show – you can check those reviews too:
…and when you’ve done that and you decide you need to read it for yourself (if you haven’t already) then you can hop over to M. W. Cravens own website, where you’ll get numerous options on how to purchase the book.
Or you can jump directly to Amazon to fetch it... but I recommend taking a tour a Craven’s site though.
The book consists of 342 breathtaking pages (my version ISBN: 978-1-4721-2745-7 also a sneak peak at Black Summer, the next book in line) and from Little Brown.
Enjoy the read. I know I did!