Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: BLIND SIGHT

Title: Blind Sight
Author: Carol O'Connell
Publisher: Headline
Pages: 320

A cloistered nun, Sister Michael, is out in the city in New York to buy roses, when she is abducted. Twelve-year-old Jonah Quill, blind since birth, also vanishes from the same busy street in the blink of an eye. Simultaneously an elderly gent is mugged.

Kathy Mallory is a woman with a formidable reputation. Part of the Special Crimes Unit, Fr Brenner seeks her help to find Sr Michael. But then the nun’s body, along with that of three others, is found on the lawns of the Mayor’s house. Young Jonah is dumped there too, but the killer makes off with him.
While his life is spared, Jonah finds the strength to fight back and resist his captor, relying on his other senses.

Through the course of the investigation, Mallory and Riker, her partner, discover a murky conspiracy afoot, one that involves the Mayor somehow. Who could have wanted a nun dead? But Mallory knows that the nun was Angie Quill, a former child prostitute, who suddenly upped and fled her former life and turned religious. And why the other three victims, all of whom are recluses with no family or friends?

Mallory and Riker believe that they are up against a cold-blooded killer with psychopathic tendencies. Yet Mallory also believes that they are confronted with a hired killer, in turn hired out by the actual killer. Somebody had wanted four people dead, not just those four, but just four from four different neighbourhoods and he had hired a professional hitman for the purpose.

The book is interesting, the peek into investigative procedures fascinating.

The omniscient narrator spares no one. The attitude is brash, sneering, in-your-face. The smirking tone does not help. The narrator’s thoughts in italics are used for all the characters, to show mental sparring against others. I wished the author had cut down on the second guessing. I found it most annoying.

The narrative is personal, almost as if the narrator were one of the characters within.

As a character, Kathy is far too tough and hard, the sort that chews hard nails for breakfast and bad guys the rest of the day. It was hard to relate to her although I did appreciate her capacity to deduce volumes of information out of nothing. Riker describes her methods as forcing puzzle pieces to fit the picture she liked best.

But I liked her, especially the fact that she never took her eyes off Jonah and his welfare, never stopped caring about what happened to him. Even with a reputation for being a machine, she shows her human side.

Riker has tough competition to face, considering that the narrator seems too biased towards Kathy. Even so, he redeems himself for his quiet strength.

Bit by bit, Mallory and her team close in on the perpetrator. And the author does a good job of revealing her cards though I wish she had spent more time in character building.

It’s good to see a woman calling the shots, but I don’t much like the idea of a superhuman machine who always has the last laugh, never loses a bet, can make grown men squirm and has no vulnerabilities whatsoever. And all this while the sarcastic voice-over intrudes upon our sensibilities.

I found Jonah very endearing. His tendency to use street smarts to outwit his captor and would-be assailant and the murderer of his aunt is interesting. I admired his ease around spaces, the way he uses his mind and other senses to make connections that the sighted might easily miss. His couldn’t-care-less attitude in the face of mind numbing terror, his faith in the love of his dead aunt, his ease in his surroundings are all admirable.

When Jonah makes a feeble yet spirited attempt to escape, my nerves were all a-jangle. Because while he is smart and independent, he is still vulnerable. Worse, he is also a kid with a “smart” mouth, one that could get him killed. He persists in asking the killer some very difficult questions like What’s it like to murder people? or How many Hail Marys for killing a nun?

The kidnapper, Iggy Conroy, is an interesting character, who lives with a pit bull and the fear of the ghost of his dead mother, a fear that makes his susceptible to mind numbing fear even though he is a brutal killer himself. At one point, he thinks nobody ever screamed when the point of a knife was an inch from an eyeball.

And so we have a cat and mouse game, where the cat is unknown and the mouse lives from one day to another. The cops have few leads but Mallory and Riker shake them with all their might.

The dead Angie also makes a strong impression, simply because she was kind and loving to a child.

The mayor’s aide, Samuel Tucker, is described as not rising to the kneecap of a cockroach, while New Yorkers, it seems, want to make a show out of any disaster. The narrator also pokes fun at New York’s famous three deadbolts to every front door.

Roses are a motif that shine their way through the book, starting from the nun’s felicity with roses, to the killer’s preoccupation with them, to Angie’s tattoos.

The author gives us a lovely flavour of the place. For a novel that is called Blind Sight, it is fitting that we readers are given so many visual cues to a setting that we are unfamiliar with, or ‘blind’ to.

The beauty of the book is that you are given delicious hints as to who the perpetrator might be, but the truth remains elusive.

I liked the manner in which the author tied up all the loose ends. Above all, I liked the idea of love reaching out from beyond the grave.

(I read an ARC from First To Read.)

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