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Mr Parsons is devilishly clever – to a crime reader who is trying to beat the book’s end to solve the case. He offers tidbits of information which you just ‘know’ are significant to the resolution of the crimes, and then you later realise he’s got you – it’s a red herring, a clue that leads you to expect what doesn’t happen, and you just have to read on to let the story tell itself.
In the prologue, we learn that twenty years before the novel begins there is a violent death involving a group of teenaged pupils of Potters Field private school.
The story begins when Max Wolfe, Detective Constable, is called to a crime scene – a banker has been murdered in an especially effective, brutally unique, method. A second victim of the same modus operandi is found a few days later – a homeless junkie. It seems the only common element is the killing method.
The banker’s office and the junkie’s mother’s mantel both have a similar photograph –seven schoolboy soldiers including the banker and the junkie, all at about age fifteen. The full seven are identified – one, James Sutcliffe, committed suicide shortly after leaving the school, and after treatment and therapy for mental health issues. They were members of the Potters Field school’s Combined Defence Force, a group of volunteers for military training and discipline.
While searching in the storage of case weaponry in the Black Museum, Max is shown a “Murder Bag” – an early CSI bag (as in the title), and later is shown a unique knife and how it is used to produce the distinctive cut to the throat of the victims.
During a visit to the school, an attempt is made to kill another of the seven – the sports master. Max heads off on a chase back through the woods, comes to a farm, and is attacked from behind, recognising the knife at his throat as the one used in the first two killings. The killer changes his mind, knocks Max down to the ground where he sees the Murder Bag, and leaves Max to recover and crawl back to the school.
A social media trending personality – Bob the Butcher – has been posting messages about killing, and posts on his account, a video of Max crawling back onto the school football field. Max contacts all the remaining members of the photo of seven, trying to find information to lead him to the killer, and knowing the events are related to something that happened years ago when the seven were at school together.
When Bob the Butcher claims to be the serial killer, Max knows it is not him, and continues to investigate. One of the seven – an aspiring MP – eventually tells everything to Max. The two go to confront the Head Master, who admits to disposing of a young girl twenty years ago and where her body now is.
Mac has always been wondering why there have been no finger nor glove prints at any scene of the killings of the former school friends. Suddenly he realises who the killer is, and why.
Tony Parsons is a clever swine – in the following chapter there is a disturbing, sickening reveal, which left me cold. You probably won’t see it coming either.
Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ
The Murder Bag
by Tony Parsons
Published by Century, for Random House
Paperback ISBN: 9781780892344
Also available as eBook