Fans of cosy crime should look away now – because a new release by Chris Carter is not a place you can comfortably inhabit. Carter has cornered the market in near to the knuckle psychological crime books that drag you in screaming and won’t let go, featuring decidedly different Detective Robert Hunter of LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit.

Why is Hunter different? Well, he’s a former criminal psychologist who decided to go to the ‘dark side’ and join the police. He’s also an insomniac and something of a loner, who drives a rust bucket of a car. But it’s the way he uses the skills garnered in his previous job to get inside the minds of some pretty weird and downright evil criminals that makes Hunter stand out from the rest – and he’ll be sorely tested by his latest opponent.

Things start a little more low key in Written in Blood though, with a criminal of a distinctly cooler hue taking the spotlight momentarily. Angela Wood is just 21, and she makes ends meet by pickpocketing from the unsuspecting. We’re just a few weeks away from Christmas as Angela is plying her dodgy trade in a busy shopping area. She isn’t greedy though, and when she’s reached her self-appointed target for the day she treats herself to a cocktail in a nearby bar.

Which is where Angela makes a dreadful mistake. Across the way, she observes a lone man who has all his attention on his phone – that is, until an elderly man asks to put his drink on the phone obsessive’s table and is very rudely rebuked. Angela decides to teach the ill-mannered man a lesson and hooks his bag from under the table before she disappears. What she finds inside the bag is about to change her life, and not for the good. It’s a leather bound diary, and its contents have Angela reeling. What has she done?

It’s not long before the book is in the hands of Hunter and his partner, Detective Carlos Garcia. Angela had left it anonymously in a colleague’s mailbox, but an incriminating fingerprint on one of the photos stapled inside leads them to her. As she’s brought in for questioning, things look bleak. The book contains the thoughts of a seasoned serial killer who relishes describing their crimes in detail, down to the map reference of where the bodies were buried.

What’s Angela’s part in all this? At first she stays tight lipped, but eventually the truth comes out and Hunter realises she is a target too. Time for our pickpocket to disappear into protective custody. The to-ing and fro-ing between Angela and Hunter is a joy to read, as the buttoned up detective and streetwise young woman butt heads. But soon that light heartedness evaporates as the killer shows just how cold blooded and devious he can be.

Written in Blood is a fine example of Chris Carter’s craft and as expected from this author it has some pretty gut-churning moments within its pages. But there’s a softer side too, especially in the Hunter/Angela moments. If you think that means Carter is losing his edge, then let me disabuse you of that thought. We have reached number 11 in the Hunter series and it’s as visceral and exciting a read as any that has gone before.

This is a book with everything – an evil, psychopathic adversary who always seems to be one step ahead of the game, a vulnerable young woman, multiple deaths and even an on-the-clock cat and mouse chase to keep the adrenaline pumping. Be prepared for some late nights as the tension builds and that ‘just one more chapter’ compulsion kicks in. Congratulations, Chris Carter, you’ve done it again!

You can read our interview with Chris Carter here. For more Los Angeles-based crime, try James Ellroy’s This Storm.

Simon & Schuster

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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