Monday, April 3, 2017

Review of "The Cleaner" by Paul Cleave

Seven women in Christchurch, New Zealand have been brutally raped and murdered by a killer dubbed the "Christchurch Carver." The homicide squad, led by Detective Schroder, is working hard on the case and Joe - the police station's mentally challenged janitor - sometimes asks "Any new leads?" before getting Schroder his morning coffee.

Joe has reason to be be interested because in reality HE'S the Christchurch Carver. Joe pretended to be disabled to get the cleaning job, and his vacant stare and big goofy smile has everybody fooled. In reality, Joe is a clever guy who - as he goes about his daily tasks - copies police files, follows the investigation, and changes out the voice recorder he hid in the police station conference room.

Outside of work hours Joe steals cars to get around, murders people, and sometimes visits his mother - who makes bad meatloaf; talks about things she bought on sale; does jigsaw puzzles; and complains about Joe neglecting her. There's something very off between Joe and his mother, but it's not clear exactly what. It might have something to do with the scars on Joe's body, but this is never specified.

Right now Joe is quite angry because he killed only six of the seven victims attributed to the Christchurch Carver. One woman was killed by a copycat who aped the Carver's methods. As a result, Joe is determined to identify the copycat and pin ALL the murders on him.....a quest that takes up most of the book.

Unfortunately for Joe, he's attracted the interest of a young woman named Sally, who does maintainance work at the police station. Sally had a handicapped brother who died, and she's determined to make 'disabled' Joe's life easier. To this end Sally brings Joe sandwiches for lunch and starts to follow him after work - with all good intentions. After Joe meets a woman named Melissa in a bar, his life gets really complicated. But Joe's an arrogant dude who figures everything will work out for him. In fact, Joe does identify the copycat killer, and this leads to a dramatic climax.

The story is told mostly from Joe's point of view, with occasional passages about what Sally's thinking and doing. Joe's crimes are described in graphic detail, so sensitive readers should be prepared.

The book is compellling and held my interest, but stories told from a serial killer's POV aren't my favorites. Also, the main characters - all of whom are more or less deluded - aren't especially likable. Sally's probably the most sympathetic character in the story, but she's WAY too nosy and intrusive.

Still, this is a well-written psychological thriller that I'd recommend to fans of the genre.

Rating: 3 stars


  1. It does sound good, but I do like to like the main character. This would challenge me.

    1. Jacqui, I prefer a likable main character also.