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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 August 2012
This stupendous psychological thriller had me on the edge of my seat with my brain-cells fully in gear. It's a complex plot and is told from several stand-points. The main protagonist, John, spends some years in a mental hospital after killing his brother. There he meets Mary, a fellow patient. The hospital closes and the inmates are dispersed into the community, each with suitable medication. John marries and has a family. Eventually he takes himself off his medication. We are faced with several personalities in this story, and the clues are there to tell us what is happening. John has delusions and is helped by his old friend 'Mary' to try to bring them to fruition.

The story is very cleverly told and I found the device of multiple narrators took us to places that John himself could not. I do enjoy the author's style of writing. It's immediate and thrilling and he really catches the Irish speech modes in his dialogue. I finished this book almost breathlessly and I look forward to Ruby's next book. He's a very talented story teller.
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on 14 May 2013
I have agonised over writing a review for this book, my words just don't seem to flow, I feel somehow inadequate for this task. The shadows of things unsaid and the impact of the things that are, memories and ghosts, fears and desires, darkness and light . . . This is quite a deep, and at times disturbing, tale with characters real enough to fall in love with. It is probably best for me to leave it there and let you dig deeper into it yourselves, you won't regret it. All that's left for me to say is - Thank you, Ruby Barnes, for writing the best book I have read in a long time!
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on 25 January 2013
The Baptist is subtitled A Psychological Thriller, and that it is; but it isn't easily pigeonholed along with the likes of The Silence Of The Lambs or the works of Mo Hayder. At the heart of its oddness is the way it's structured. It starts from the viewpoint of the titular character, John Baptist, a clearly troubled soul, who apparently murders his brother and is committed to an asylum by his parents who have their own `issues', before abruptly switching focus and giving us a view of somebody else's thoughts. I say `apparently' murders his brother because it soon becomes clear that Baptist isn't the most reliable of narrators, not necessarily because he's a deliberate liar (though he is, as most killers tend to be) but because he doesn't have the strongest grip on reality.

The frequent changes in point of view make for some tricky reading. A character is described in detail by one narrator; then, in the next chapter, the narrator turns out to match the description he gave the person in the chapter before. Gradually the kaleidoscopic fragments consolidate and the plot becomes clearer. To say much more about it (the plot) would be to spoil the story.

The Baptist is a demanding read, which is one of the things I enjoyed about it. Barnes's writing is deft and sinewy but always easy to follow; the trickiness is deliberate and comes from the way the story is laid out. John Baptist is a compelling, complex character, though not one I'd like to spend a great deal of time with. The whole novel is shot through with a strong vein of outrageous humour: the scene late on involving a pair of American tourists, who may really be the cliches they appear to be or may on the other hand be victims of Baptist's own distorted perceptions, is shamefully hilarious.

The story is a little too drawn out towards the end, perhaps, and takes a turn for the predictable; but those are minor quibbles. This is highly original, intelligent and exuberant writing in a genre sorely lacking in such qualities. I look forward to reading Mr Barnes's other novels, Peril and The Crucible.
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on 30 January 2013
In popular fiction the serial killer is a trope for the embodiment of evil rather than an extreme example of the everyday experience of madness that may affect ourselves or our friends. For that reason Hannibal Lecter has more in common with Dracula Prince of Darkness than, say, the Yorkshire Ripper in his ignorant ordinariness. For the same reason, the madness of the fictional serial killer is a permanent part of the character's identity - masked perhaps, but always there - while in contrast the madness of actual life is like a career of part time jobs: some good, some horrible, but all episodic. Ruby Barnes's insight into this reality is what makes The Baptist so truthful, convincing and distinctive.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of the killer himself, John Baptist. He is committed to an institution in his teens for the murder of his brother and here he meets Mary, whose madness is of a more chaotic type. On his release he creates a normal life in Ireland, including a marriage with children and a job running a small garage business. His tendency to madness is always there but it is managed by drugs, as is the case for many people. However - and this is another intelligent insight of the author - John secretly comes off his drugs: he actively chooses his psychosis over his sanity because the experience of madness is invigorating and empowering (at least on a temporary basis until its disruptive effects become overwhelming). In this condition John encounters Mary again and they embark on a spree to realise his mission.

The most effective passages of the book deal with John's encounter with a mysterious friend, Feargal, and the resumption of his relations with Mary. Because we see events through John's eyes the surface of the narrative becomes slippery with uncertainty as to the reality of what we are seeing, and the identities of characters seem to elide one into another. This part is wonderfully done because of the delicate writing, which is restrained, slyly humorous, and at times lyrical. The best parts are reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro. The writing throughout is of a very high standard.

As with most books there are flaws, though none of them fatal. This isn't a detective story, but Barnes introduces a detective, McAuliffe, who is linked to John's history by an inadequately explained backstory and whose role is essentially redundant. Also there are several shifts in the narrative point of view that work only so-so because the dominance of John's viewpoint has the effect that the shifts come as something of a surprise. It is also fair to repeat that this is not a standard serial killer thriller, and this means that the reader does not have the safety and comfort of the usual conventions. Prepare to be creeped out.

Jim Williams
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on 6 February 2013
Ruby Barnes is never afraid to push all the book rule boundaries and The Baptist is no exception. Within the first few pages, we are fully embedded in the mind of the unlikely main character of the piece, right there with him as he leads us into temptation. The motivational trigger is right there too; the sibling jealousy, the fear and hatred of his brother, a brother who was maybe becoming a little too much like his controlling, insensitive father. Only a small step then, into that world which lies under the surface of our cosy lives and thoughts, a step which the majority of us don't want to know, or even think about. The mental hospital, the inmates and how all of this experience shaped him further, is well done with a dash of black humour.
Baptist, is a character fashioned slowly into madness, where the edges of reality blur into the imaginary and at times I had to double back in the story a little, just to check which part of his head I was actually in!
The axis comes when Baptist stops taking the tablets.
He's a psychotic killer, although there is an underlying empathy with this man, for despite not liking him, I was nosy enough to want to know what happens to him, and what he was going to do.
It is strangely intoxicating to read. Mesmerising almost as the tension is racked up by the clever, non-sensational use of narrative, the observational humour and scene setting.
Read slowly, and read every word... and don't answer the door.
A big beefy four for me.
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on 19 December 2011
You really don't want to meet this man!

I like a good serial killer tale and what I appreciate about this one is the angle from which it's told. For a change you are not bogged down with police proceedure, ferensics and all that good guy angst.

The writing is tight and very atmospheric.

A chilling tale of real evil.
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on 24 July 2012
I wouldn't say 'The Baptist' was enjoyable as such, but I liked it a lot, having devoured it in less than 3 days.
Following the story of serial killer, John Baptist as he travels deeper into his psychotic crusade, Ruby Barnes takes you on a very disturbing journey as John tries to find his calling through his very fractured mind. The most interesting aspect of this is his quiet method of killing, chilling in its lack of violence, which is the psychotic opposite of his accomplice, Alice who is even more insane than he is and is brutal and primeval in her way of killing.
Some may not appreciate the changes in points of view but I think it added to the atmosphere as the story spiralled down to its ever darker conclusion when John finally thinks he had found what he had been looking for.
Great read, well written.
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on 14 November 2011
To begin with, the writing is very good indeed, with a light, contemporary touch that makes reading a pleasure. Descriptive passages are original; there is nothing hackneyed about Mr Barnes' prose - it is fresh, sharp and incisive. The pacing is good, the subject matter compelling, unusual and well-observed. The theme - of a serial killer with a religious bent when it comes to despatching his victims - is original and consistent almost right through the story. I loved the intricacies of the relationship between John Baptist and Mary Crossan. In fact, I loved just about everything about the story and read it on two days. The portrayal of John's mental state as he abandons his medication is terrific and the casual way in which he inflicts death is blood-curdlingly understated.

I had a problem with switching from the POV of John in 1st person, to Sarah in 1st person, and then Mary/Alice. It seemed that these alternative points of view were there solely to prop up the plot - that without them, the reader would not know enough of what was going on. Likewise, the inclusion of McAuliffe. His interventions seemed to be there to support the backstory and added little to the main narrative and in one of the final scenes, I was dismayed to find the Gardai portrayed more like the Keystone cops than a police force.

A small issue, but why describe so many journeys too and from places in and around Kilkenny? Perhaps because I have never been there, I did not relate to the town so these journeys became slightly tedious and I think some of them could have been omitted.

Overall, a compelling read that will stick in my mind for far longer than is comfortable.
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on 1 July 2012
Ruby gets you right inside the mad head of John Baptist, aka Feargal. Sometimes that's a confusing place to be. He portrays expertly the conscience free zone of The Baptist's crazy mind and his equally insane accomplice, Mary, aka Alice. I struggled to keep up with their switches of personality at times, as their realities changed according to where their psychoses were taking them.
An electric ride of atrocities, committed without compunction, enables the reader to understand why these sorts of crimes might happen. I thought the analogy with biblical themes clever but a little clunky at times. Sarah was well drawn as John's long-suffering wife. It was easy to understand that she would need her background as a mental health nurse to cope with her husband but it was less clear why she was attracted to him. On the other hand,it was very obvious that Mary's sexual prowess would be hard for any man to resist. Her passionate love for John, despite her lunacy, was genuinely convincing.
The chilling atmosphere pervading throughout the Kingsmead estate enveloped me in a damp, dark claustrophobia.
I have driven a Saab too fast myself and thrilled to its power. I found myself grinning when John guns the engine for the first time and feels the torque. Nice one.
Recommended reading for atmosphere and getting inside a psychotic mind.
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on 11 February 2013
This is the second of Ruby's books I have read and it didn't disappoint. Ruby's craft is evident in the plot, the finely drawn characters and a narrative that switches between characters so they speak to us, not the author. It's a dark tale of mental health problems, violent deaths and pure lust. There's not a syllable wasted in the telling of the tale and its twists and turns left me desperate to read on. Back to the Kindle store now for another Barnes.
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