Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard: Reading Room Review


This book should come with a warning: do not read while alone in your house. I love thrillers, but I’m rarely scared by them. The Nothing Man permeated my layer of fiction security and had me looking over my shoulder throughout its reading. It is a book that will shatter your sense of safety and have you sleeping with one eye open. Psychological thriller at its best. Catherine Ryan Howard has achieved a level of intensity usually reserved for the movies, where you can see the danger coming. Howard creates a picture out of her words that is more powerful than a screen image, because what you imagine is even terrifying in its possibilities. It is the story of a serial killer who attacks people in their homes, and the police (Gardai) have nothing left, no evidence, at the scenes to connect to a suspect. The Nothing Man leaves nothing incriminating behind. He appears out of the dark and slithers back into it after brutalizing his victims. 

Eve Black was twelve years old when the Nothing Man paid her family a visit in the middle of an October night in 2001. She was the lone survivor in the murdering rampage that killed her mother, her father, and her seven-year-old sister. With this tragedy being the defining moment of her life, Eve’s path just naturally takes her to writing a book about the Nothing Man. Say it’s a calling or an obsession or a need to understand, Eve knows that she can’t move on to anything else until she finds the man who so altered the lives of her family and others. After Eve’s family was killed, the Nothing Man went dormant, his terrorizing apparently abated or thrown off course by a stronger pull in his life. But, Eve at 30 isn’t satisfied that he doesn’t seem to be a threat anymore. She wants him identified and punished. 

A security guard at a large supermarket is shocked when he sees a book by Eve Black called The Nothing Man in a customer’s hands. Jim Doyle is all too familiar with the name he was given as he baffled the police in his evidence-free sprees of violence. Almost twenty years have passed, and he felt confident that his dark secret would never see the light of day. But, he’s curious what Eve Black, the girl he left alive in the home at Passage West in County Cork, Ireland has to say, if she gets it right about him and just how much she knows. He buys a copy of the book and starts reading about his interactions with his victims, reliving the moments when he held the fate of a person or couple or family in his hands. And, he realizes that Eve Black poses a real threat to his anonymity and a danger to his discovery. 

Catherine Ryan Howard gives readers this chilling story in a clever format. It’s a book within a book, with the chapters of Eve Black’s memoir and true crime book interrupted by the thoughts of the Nothing Man as he reads it and fills in some of the blanks not covered in Eve’s book. It’s a seamless transition from one to the other, with the commentary from Jim Doyle becoming an anticipated part of the story. Not only is Eve’s story told in her book, but the stories of the other victims are there, too, in all their catastrophic horror. Howard/Eve gives the background of these other attacks, presenting a well-fleshed out picture of the victims through what Eve presents and Jim adds. It’s the human, personal effects we get from Eve and the cold, unfeeling actions of sociopath from Jim. Catherine Ryan Howard does a brilliant job of giving enough information and description without any gratuitous detail of the violence. She shows great patience as a writer, not rushing the action or conclusions, a natural pace setter. There are plenty of surprises throughout the book, ones that will chill and ones that will make you play the if only game in your head. It is an un-put-downable read of intensity. The originality of this book and its palatable scare factor will make it a must-read for crime fiction fans everywhere.