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on 9 April 2017
On the basis of the seductively original premise which promises a deadly cat and mouse pursuit of a ruthless serial killer without a motive by a grief-stricken detective who obsessively follows his trail, I should have enjoyed Eye Contact immensely. Disappointingly, the woeful execution does the synopsis a disservice and I struggled to wade through the interminably mundane prose, the lacklustre pace and two lead characters who are extraordinary underdeveloped.

Robert Naysmith, a successful, confident and well groomed sales director in his late thirties is in Bristol on business when he is presented with the opportunity to continue a lethal game of life or death which has left a trail of unsolved murders in his wake. His cover is his charismatic personality and to all intents and purposes ability to successfully function in his everyday life. Why he does so is never explored in any depth, but occasional lapses into dream sequences hint at an unhappy childhood, so I presume that is supposed to be the implied trigger. Unfortunately I am still none the wiser about the drivers behind his killing spree, however I presume they are thrill killings, defined as premeditated murder that is motivated by the sheer excitement of the act. Naysmith's introduction of a random factor in selecting his chosen targets is wonderfully original, with his quarry being the first unlucky soul that makes eye contact with him once the game is 'in play'. From that moment on the clock starts ticking with a twenty-four hour head start for the target and a chance to disappear keeping Naysmith on his toes. His first victim is a young female jogger and his preparation, stressing the importance of patience and details is endlessly observed by McNeill, as befitting a sociopathic serial killer. When the victims body is discovered on the Severn Beach and the case is assigned to D.I. Graham Harland operating out of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, the excitement and promise of something to occupy his lonely hours sends a shiver down his spine. The victim is Vicky Sutherland and the cause of her death is asphyxiation with the killers gloved hand introducing a clear sign of premeditation. A lack of forensics leaves an absence of leads and the exposure of the body to the motion of the tides is another headache muddying the findings. In her possession are three keys attached to a keyring, two of which are obviously for her front door but the third one, which holds a decent thumbprint, goes unidentified. When the thumbprint is analysed it is discovered to belong to a man that she has no connection with and who himself was discovered dead four months ago, in a similar waterside location. And so begins the start of a sinister pattern of murders connected only by their apparent randomness and the deliberate placement of a 'souvenir' taken from the previous victim and left on the following victim signalling the work of the perpetrator.

As the series moves on and the impetus to investigate is handed to the appropriate investigating force in the region where the next body is discovered, the refusal of D.I. Graham Harland to pass on the baton and focus on other investigations seems obsessive. But how can he expect a killer who strikes at random to ever be caught when the usual 'tells' involving behavioural patterns and irrational hatred of a sector of society are so absent? With the 'souvenir' theory meaning that by the time the next body is discovered the police are already behind the curve and playing catch-up, and hence the frustrating investigation leads to tempers fraying. The portrayal of the investigating officers at Avon and Somerset Constabulary reads like a checklist of requirements for a stereotypical crime novel, from damaged and mourning D.I. Graham Harland struggling to find a reason to move on the wake of his wife's death a year ago and prone to the frequent bout of "red mist". His political superior, Superintendent Alasdair Blake, is keen on pep talks but seemingly blinkered to the difficulties that the unique investigation faces, with the sarcastic DS Pope who seems determined to wind Harland up through to DS James Mendel's unwavering support alongside. This forgettable cast brings little to the story and it seemed like a means of creating the tension as the pressure to deliver a result escalates.

I found the structure of this novel a little strange and I confess that it did nothing to enhance my enjoyment. The narrative switches back and forth from the viewpoint of the perpetrator to that of the lead detective but in contrast to the usual formula of alternate chapters which injects pace and tempt the reader into 'just one more chapter', McNeill strangely opts for recounting the snails pace build up, scoping of locations and eventual killing by Naysmith before moving to D.I. Graham Harland. Located around the South-West of England, there is plenty of descriptive prose featuring walks through the countryside and along the course of the river but McNeill would do well to understand that the hint of intrigue is often superior to overly elaborate descriptions which make it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Eye Contact is however, a coherent if rather run of the mill serial killer novel, but achingly devoid of suspense and with pages of inane waffle as the killer scopes his new targets and locations, it drags along all feeling fairly lacklustre. The initial premise with the head-start given to the chosen target and the forfeit undertaken for a selection that is he cannot pursue, in this case a child, added intrigue but I was never convinced by Robert Naysmith, despite his controlling of lover, Kim. A failure to even offer a backstory leaves Eye Contact devoid of the usual insight into a sociopathic serial killers journey through the course of his life so far and I found it impossible to connect with the portrayal. In fact, Robert Naysmith wouldn't even need to make eye contact with me before I succumbed as the man could quickly bore me into submission! I would struggle to wholeheartedly recommend Eye Contact and for me it does not meet the criteria necessary for a thriller. The denouement goes right down to the wire and readers wishing to see how Eye Contact ends will need to be patient!

Eye Contact was a curious read, lacking the vibrancy and gusto which makes for a page-turning novel and with a wallowing lead detective, this is my first and last encounter with D.I. Graham Harland and Fergus McNeill. The lack of characterisation or exploration of the serial killers behaviour was my biggest struggle with this novel and the snail pace narration made this a book feel like a chore to persevere with. In the right hands I still think the premise has much to offer but a good editor to cut the unnecessary repetition is a must.

Review written by Rachel Hall (@hallrachel)
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on 24 March 2014
As others have mentioned, this book was written from both the perspective of the lead detective, Harland, and the killer, Naysmith. Slightly differently from other books written in this way, rather than having one chapter each this had great big chunks of 30 or 40 pages before you got to see what the other one was up to. So if you read on the train, or before going to sleep, you didn't always revisit both sides of the story. This annoyed me greatly and made the story drag.

I agree with other reviewers that the killer's character was the more thought out and explored. The police were one dimensional. We never really got to understand what Harland's problem with colleague Pope was - he only ever uttered a couple of slightly annoying comments that didn't really merit the hatred Harland felt for him. Likewise Harland's sidekick, though caring, wasn't really explored enough and we didn't get much of a picture of him - there wasn't any banter and the book lacked the humour of similar novels of this genre.

I may read the next in the series if I have some spare time, but unless the police protagonists become more interesting it will be my last outing with Inspector Harland.
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on 7 November 2015
I'm struggling to get to the end. A bit repetitious.
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on 13 November 2014
I am astonished that Peter Robinson recommended this book. The characterization is, at best, thin. The plot is barely credible and the main character is a detective who displays no detection skills.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 26 October 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Debut novels vary a lot. Sadly a few are dire. Others strike the reader as showing promise and start out well, but get lost a little along the way. A very few really hit the mark, and work extremely well on all levels. Pleasingly, Eye Contact was an absorbing read and definitely fell into the latter category much to the credit of the author.

If there is one single mistake which new authors tend to make, it is to overcomplicate plots. The result is often confused, overlong and unbelievable. However, here Fergus McNeill starts out with a simple premise - a serial killer who makes a game of murder. When he decides it is time to kill, he patiently waits for the next occasion on which a stranger makes eye contact with him. At that point they have nominated themselves as his next victim and he hunts them down. Unlikely - certainly. Impossible - by no means. There is no problem whatsoever in buying into this as a credible scenario and since there is no obvious connection between the victims it must be the police's worst nightmare.

The main protagonists are very capably drawn up and the author really gets under their skin. On the one hand we have the killer, Naysmith. Although predatory, totally ruthless and cold blooded he comes across as a real and rather frightening persona as we learn about both his life and background. In the other corner we have the investigating policeman who is a damaged character - which could be a bit of a cliché as it is by no means an unusual scenario in fiction. In this case he has not got over the premature death of his beloved wife who he still deeply grieves. However, again the characterisation is done extremely well which makes the reader feel that they understand the man.

The whole book is evenly paced, and does not lag at any stage. Neither does the reader find himself knee deep in gore, and the psychological aspects are what is stressed. The climax and conclusion are interesting, satisfactory for the reader and somewhat subtle. Here we have an author who clearly understands that less is often more. This is a very impressive debut novel, and I will certainly be looking out for the author's next book. Highly recommended!
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on 15 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This serial killer novel has an interesting concept whereby the killer's victims are randomly selected. This is what initially drew me to the novel and I found it an easy well written read. However, I thought the author had a tendency to over describe places and events and this slowed the pace a little.

I especially enjoyed the passages following the killer's acts. On the other hand, the chapters concerning the main detective were not so captivating and unfortunately for me, the character was not particularly well written and fell into the old worn cliche of the haunted, lonely and miserable cop.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but I felt that the only outstanding thing about this book was the original concept of how the killer selected his victims. Still worth a read and as it is the start of a new series, I will probably read the next one.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Eye Contact is a decent serial killer/police procedural that's well written, pacy and easy to read. The plot is wide open, there aren't many surprises, but it moves along with speed and it's a page turner. I enjoyed the main characters, found them believable and it's refreshing to have a smart, intelligent businessman in the role of killer instead of yet another devious creature who lives in squalor and scares the local children. There's a lot of cat and mouse, the killer selects his victim at random and gives himself 24 hours to kill them while, at the same time, the police are chasing him and closing in. Reads well, isn't overly violent but has enough darkness to keep you involved. I don't have any real negatives, Eye Contact is a decent thriller that not only introduces a killer but attempts to explain him and I enjoyed it.
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on 22 September 2012
I have read many crime novels and have to say that this is up there
with the best of them.
As a debut novel it is even more impressive, with the writer having a fluid style and some frankly beautifully written passages.
The plot was clever and original in how the killer found his targets and kept me on the edge of my seat.

I disagree with the comment that the writer spends too long describing places as I found that attention to detail allowed me to feel I was actually there and the writer used many clever techniques such as describing sensations, smells and sounds to bring the reader into the story.
I felt that the pace allowed the tension to build (I was actually becoming very tense when he was 'hunting' his first victim!) and when the murders happened they were explosive and brutal but not gratuitous.

The two different perspectives, the killer and the cop - sounded familiar but the quality of the writing made it seem fresh.
The use of a cynical, damaged and lonely cop who is on the side of `right` serves to highlight the `nice` and comfortable lifestyle of the protagonist who is so terribly `wrong`

The killers girlfriend offered a nice touch allowing us to see his need for control in all aspects of his life and his basic lack of compassion. It also showed how easily he could seem normal - a frightening thought.

All in all I enjoyed the book, admired the writing skill and was excited to find a new and excellent crime novelist. Roll on the next one!!!
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VINE VOICEon 31 July 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Rob Naysmith is an ordinary sort of man: late thirties, good looking, charming, successful in his career as a salesman, with a nice girlfriend at home in Wiltshire. He has an unusual hobby, though: he kills random strangers, choosing his victims by the first person to make eye contact with him at a given time.

Rob's stalking of the first victim we see him dispatch, interior designed Vicky, is chilling in its calculation. The build-up to the kill is genuinely tense.

The viewpoint then switches to Detective Inspector Graham Harland, who is in charge of the latest murder, and we alternate between these two men, who have a fair bit in common: same age, same good looks. Harland is the one who realises that they have a serial killer on their hands, but how do you catch a killer who picks his victims at random?

McNeill has a good prose style, never making me wince with clumsy sentences, vocabulary used wrongly or bad grammar. I was genuinely intrigued, from the outset, to know where this story was going. I'm not normally a fan of crime novels where the killer's motive is that he's insane, but this works surprisingly well. It's apparently the first of a series, but seemed more like a one-off thriller to me. We shall have to see where it goes next.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 August 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A killer with no motive and no connection to his victim is virtually untraceable and to killer Robert Naysmith, it's all a game. A random location, a random street, a time is selected and the first person who makes eye contact with him after that time will be his next victim...the game begins and the hunt is on.

Detective Inspector Harland of the Avon and Somerset Police leads the investigation when one of Naysmiths victims is found on remote Severn Beach. From the random killings in the various towns he is the only one who makes a connection that ties them all together

Both of the main characters are intricately drawn, Harland hiding from his grief at losing his wife Alice by burying himself in his work and Naysmith the successful businessman who is also a cold, calculating killer who relishes the thrill of hunting down his target.

A really good novel, easy to get into, a clever plot and well written that's told alternately from the perspective of the killer and the cop, this book had me turning the pages wanting to know how it ended. When I got there I wasn't totally satisfied with the ending but that's probably due to this being the first in a series (or so it says on the back cover), I'll certainly be reading the sequel.
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