Local media in Christchurch, New Zealand, are obsessively covering the story of the “Christchurch Carver,” a serial killer who has gruesomely killed seven women. Joe, a cleaner at the police department in Christchurch, knows the police are wrong. He knows the Christchurch Carver has only killed six people—because he is the Christchurch Carver. And he is determined to find the copycat.
THE CLEANER by Paul Cleave is a novel featuring a serial killer with a regular job, his (slightly) crazy mother, a copycat killer, and the police force tasked with finding out who is killing all these women. If it sounds like something you saw on television last night, read in your Freudian primer, or vaguely reminds you of every murder mystery ever written, do not fear. Paul Cleave has the ability to turn a familiar narrative into a suspenseful, tight-knit, fast-paced, and wholly thrilling journey.
Joe is not just a slow and shy cleaner, nor is he a wholly self-centered sociopath with great attention to detail and a slightly worrying (read: absolutely alarming) attitude toward women. He vacillates between these polarities and comes across as a complex, realistic character. At some point you start to empathize with his distress over the women in his life: his emotionally overbearing mother; Sally, the well-meaning maintenance officer who tries to help slow” Joe and views him as a receptacle for the grief she feels about her father’s lingering descent into dementia (Joe also thinks she’s special, but for very different reasons); and Melissa, who understands—and terrifies—him. Cleave’s writing is sharp and witty and draws you into Joe’s hunt for his copycat even as the whole of Christchurch unknowingly hunts for him.
Brilliantly written, THE CLEANER is the kind of book you finish, flip through the pages one more time to make sure you didn’t gloss over any parts, and then, once you’re certain the Christchurch Carver isn’t lurking outside your house, embark on a frantic search to find more of Paul Cleave’s work.