Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy is called to the scene of murder where the body of a young woman has been found in a way suggesting that she passively accepted her death. The case gets even stranger when a document is found at the scene written as the first chapter in a self-help guide for serial killers. Soon after, a search of the area locates six carefully placed business cards advertising The Rule Book with a picture of a raven. Does this mean six more victims?
As bodies of the second and third victims are found on succeeding days, it becomes clear that a serial killer is at work in Dublin.
Choosing a serial killer story for your first crime fiction novel is a bold move. It is too easy for stories in this genre for the focus become one of shocking the reader with graphic gore. So I was very pleased to see that Kitchin has written a very good police procedural that features a serial killer. This isn't to say that there isn't violence, there is, but it isn't drawn out in a voyeuristic fashion. There is one exception but I looked at it as means of showing just how far the killer has separated himself from any remaining humanity.
I don't want to say too much about the killer, The Raven. The hunt is intercut with scenes from The Raven's point of view and more of his methods are revealed. He is arrogant in his feeling of superiority and disdain for the police but not infallible. The way the clues are constructed and what the police do with them is clever, unique even, and adds to the enjoyment of the story.
Colm McEvoy is sympathetic and engaging character. He is still morning the death of his wife and trying to be a good father to his daughter while conducting the hunt for a psychopath. With few clues to go on, he knows that there will have to be more deaths until a pattern emerges.
With serial killers rare in Ireland, the case gets world-wide attention and pressure from superior on the police force, politicians, and the press to produce results. Added to McEvoy's problems is Charlie Deegan, an ambitious, arrogant, and back-stabbing young detective whose interest is more in making a name for himself that being a member of the team and is not above keeping information to himself.
I liked the way Kitchin builds the tension and shows how the responsibility wears on McEvoy. I really felt his frustration and weariness as leads go nowhere and the dread of more bodies bears down on him.
The author has also developed a good cast of supporting characters. In addition to the other detectives, there is Hannah Fallon, the no-nonsense leader of the crime scene investigation, Elaine Jone, the state pathologist who is determined not to let McEvoy sink into him misery, and Kathy Jacobs, a Scottish profiler. Charlie Deegan is used effectively to add tension and will also make an excellent recurring character.
Kitchin has the foundation for a good series and I closed the book wishing that there already was a sequel available.
I enjoyed The Rule Book and the story, characters, and writing style make it one I would recommend to readers who like police procedurals and can handle some graphic gore.