Book review: The Laughterhouse by Paul Cleave

This book is in bookstores now.

Poor old Christchurch. Fortunately the Christchurch in Paul Cleave’s latest thriller hasn’t been devastated by earthquakes. Instead its citizens are facing an entirely different terror – a spree killer running amok in the crime-riddled streets, slaughtering seemingly random victims and leaving cryptic messages inked on their lifeless foreheads. I can’t imagine international readers will be flocking to our poor Garden City; Cleave’s book is no travelogue. What it is though is a fast-paced action-packed thriller of a story.

Fifteen years ago, a young girl was found murdered in an abandoned slaughterhouse (the gruesomely re-named Laughterhouse of the title). The murderer was found and arrested. Now someone has decided that justice wasn’t properly served and has taken matters decisively and violently into his own hands. Private Investigator Theodore Tate becomes very personally involved in the ensuing hunt for the so-called spree killer. Tate is a former homicide detective, having been thrown out of the police force, serving time in prison for crimes of his own. He is uniquely placed to solve the puzzling link between the victims in order to track down the killer.

Tate is a complex and very human character with a fascinating back story of his own; he has appeared in two earlier novels. I don’t believe I lost anything by not having read the Tate stories in order but I do now feel compelled to go back and read the other books to fill in some tantalising gaps. I desperately hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of Theodore Tate.

I first heard of Paul Cleave a few years ago and had been meaning to add him to my “To Read” list. There was a great article in North & South magazine a while back about Cleave and his success internationally. What do the Germans know that we don’t? Why isn’t Cleave more widely read in New Zealand? If you’re harbouring any traces of cultural cringe about reading New Zealand authors, and have a liking for crime thrillers, then one of Cleave’s books would be a very smart starting point in overcoming any outdated notions about Kiwi authors being inferior to overseas writers. Cleave easily holds his own.

Laughterhouse is a gripping, gritty and very disturbing read. One of the spree killer’s victims is kidnapped, rather than killed, and then forced to choose which of his three daughters to see killed and which to save. This isn’t a book you will want to put down. As a parent, I couldn’t sleep until the awful tension had been resolved. A very good book to save for your Christmas holiday or a long flight when you are able to read it in one sitting.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Laughterhouse
by Paul Cleave
Published by Penguin
ISBN 9780143568292

Thanks to the generous folks at Penguin Books we had a copy of The Laughterhouse to give away – congratulations to Lesley McIntosh who was the winner of this book.