Robert Naysmith enjoys playing a game. But his is no ordinary game as he plays alone, framing the task and setting the rules himself. The challenges come when life’s uncontrollable events intervene. Naysmith’s game involves killing people; when he decides the game is on, the first person to make eye contact with him becomes his target.
Opening with a Severn Beach location – on the Bristol side of the channel, which is becoming popular of late – Naysmith has targeted a young woman while strolling in the Clifton area of the city during a business trip. He is a meticulous planner attending to every small detail as he rises to his challenge, even working in exploratory field trips alongside his business trips.
For the local police, no motive can be identified for the crime. In a team already troubled by some personal tensions, one brown-nosing careerist is determined to pursue the ‘failed sexual assault’ theory undermining his immediate boss in the process. But then, that immediate boss DI Graham Harland applies some lateral thinking to what little physical evidence they have and the investigation moves to a much wider focus…
This is confident debut from Fergus McNeill, mixing thriller with police procedural and employing the style of writing experienced in John Sandford’s Prey series to create a tense, compelling and truly unputdownable read. The story weaves from Naysmith’s point of view to Harland’s, moving across the country to take in Hampshire and London.
DI Harland is another to join the ranks of ‘troubled cop’, but here we have something different and in the pages of Eye Contact you will also find a remarkable and genuine depiction of grief following the loss of a loved one.
Taking an unusual premise – as Craig Robertson did with Random in 2010 – Eye Contact is a novel that will have the reader losing track of time. It also ends on an atypical note, adding to its originality.
The only areas requiring a little generosity here are that we sometimes spend too much time with Naysmith on his recces (reducing the tension but easily overcome with a skim read), and that a later scene in the book forces some suspension of disbelief regarding technology given the timeframe.
Finally, bravo to the author for creating a serial killer who has not practised on insects and small animals when a child. The reason for Naysmith’s psychological make-up is slowly revealed in the novel and proves rather sad.
Eye Contact is published in the UK in hardback and ebook format by Hodder & Stoughton on 13 September.
You can find out more about the author here and find him on twitter: @fergusmcneill.