HACHETTE BOOKS 437 pp €14.99 e book €8.99
A man’s body is found in a luxury Dublin hotel, stabbed repeatedly and posed in a ritualistic way. The victim is tied similar to the image on the Hangman Card from the Tarot Cards, and with traces of lipstick on his mouth, suggesting a bizarre last kiss.
Called in to help, criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson profiles the killer as highly intelligent, suffused with anger and, unusually, female. The organised nature of the murder suggests the killer has struck before, but when, and where, and why. The victim, a shady art dealer, used escorts and frequented a bondage club. Are there clues in his background to the killer? Or is the answer to be found in the Tarot?
Separately, Sandra, a Dublin housewife, becomes convinced her husband is having an affair and that the other woman is stalking her. Her friends offer her sympathy, but little else. She resolves to track and confront her stalker. But Sandra has a past also, as does one of her friends. The murder investigation, and that past, come together in this fine psychological chiller, the third to feature Kate Pearson and her collaborator, Garda Detective Inspector O’Connor.
The pair are thrown together again, and their developing love interest is clear, though very much secondary as the trail leads them to two similar cold case killings nearly a decade earlier, in Paris and Rome. The link identified by Kate is the Tarot, together with the sexual inclinations of the other victims, promiscuous and into S&M, as well as the luxurious staged settings for the murders. When it emerges the Parisian victim was known to Sandra and her friends, the investigation begins to focus.
The case uncovers dark secrets in the past, rooted in a small Wicklow town, with hints of incest and paedophilia haunting the memories of childhood friends. Meanwhile the killer, stalking her next victim, is comfortable and assured as she narrates tracking down her prey and describes her previous murders. As the book builds towards the climax, it becomes a race to see whether Kate, O’Connor and the Gardai can prevent another murder, with the Tarot Death card the motivator.
Louise Phillips goes from strength to strength. “The Doll’s House” won the 2013 BGE Crime Book of the Year. “Last Kiss” is superior and takes her writing to another, more intense level. The pace is excellent, the characters, familiar and new, well drawn and believable. The author explores the powerful effects early contact with evil can have on a child and how a personality can be shaped or perverted by its environment. The book flows well and airs skilfully some of the disturbing themes laid bare in Ireland in recent years.