review: Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

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Thank you to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

Official Synopsis

Your face is a blur to him. But your body still bleeds.

The Farren family has been a plague upon Philadelphia’s most dangerous neighbourhood, the Devil’s Pocket, for generations. There, row after row of tumbledown houses hide dark secrets – none darker than Billy, the youngest Farren.

Afflicted by a syndrome that means he can’t recognise faces, Billy must use photographs to identify his family – and his victims. And when your life has bled away, he takes a final, gruesome picture for his wall.

But what is the meaning of the horrific ritual Billy enacts with every murder? And is there any connection to a childhood event Detective Kevin Byrne has buried so well it’s hidden even from his former partner Jessica Balzano?

Interestingly enough, the cover review by Tess Gerritsen (“relentlessly suspenseful”) is a little misleading in terms of how I would class a mystery as “suspenseful”.

After all, we know who the killer is in Shutter Man from the get-go.

That fact doesn’t make the narrative any less compelling, however – it’s actually crucial that we, as readers, get to know the murderer – aptly named “Billy the Wolf”, for the book to come to such a satisfying conclusion. The last few chapters really pack an emotional wallop. And Gerritsen is right about one thing – the book is relentless. Montanari grabs you by the throat immediately and doesn’t let go.

In Shutter Man, Montanari travels back and forth in time, through the rough and tumble world of “The Devil’s Pocket” (a neighborhood in Philadelphia ruled by criminals) in the 1940s and 1970s, to the present day, with detectives Byrne and Balzano. Balzano has become an ADA and gets the chance to begin working on a landmark case for the city – a chance to bring the Farren family to justice.

In Philly, the Farrens are notorious. Known for enacting swift and brutal retribution to anyone who crosses them, the family have left a litter of convictions, death and anguish in their wake, and they aren’t done yet. Billy the Wolf is actually Michael Farren, and he and his cousin Sean are criss-crossing Philadelphia, killing people in a seemingly random fashion. Byrne and Balzano know better.

But why is Billy the Wolf leaving pieces of bloody linen at the crime scenes? Who is the mysterious white-haired woman who sings to the victims before they die? Why can’t Billy recognize faces? And what really happened in Byrne’s past in that summer when innocence was lost?

As Byrne and Balzano get closer to the truth of Billy’s motivations, the novel becomes unputdownable. The writing is almost poetic in places – but still readable and entertaining, as it should be in a crime novel. Eerie, satisfying and complex, this is one mystery definitely worth reading. I’m looking forward to more from Montanari – his upcoming book The Doll Maker looks especially good.


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