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The Nothing Man: An intelligent thriller where true crime becomes fiction

Thriller: The Nothing Man

Catherine Ryan

Howard Corvus, 344 pages, hardcover €12.99; e-book £4.31

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Fourth novel: Catherine Ryan Howard

Fourth novel: Catherine Ryan Howard

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Fourth novel: Catherine Ryan Howard

Of the many things to admire and enjoy about The Nothing Man, its last line is one of the best. (Don't worry, no spoiler alert needed - I'm talking about the acknowledgements.) Catherine Ryan Howard concludes her new genre-bending psychological thriller with the words: "Finally, a disclaimer: this is a work of fiction. That means I made everything up, including the facts."

But back to the beginning. The opening is so deceptively simple it takes a while to understand just how wily this book of two distinct stories (but one killer) really is. The first story is a true-crime account of a series of unsolved attacks and murders written by Eve Black entitled The Nothing Man, A Survivor's Search for the Truth. Eve Black was the sole survivor of a horrific attack on her family: "I was 12 years old when a man broke into our home and murdered my mother, father and younger sister, Anna, seven years old then and for ever." At the time, it was the fifth such attack in two years, but because the perpetrator always covered his tracks so well, gardaí were unable to get anything on him. The media dubbed him the Nothing Man, and the Nothing Man he stayed.

Twenty years later, he remains unidentified and has presumably, gone to ground. Now grown-up and a creative writing student, Eve writes an article about the murders which despite being incredibly exposing ("it felt like flinging myself off a cliff") is cathartic. The piece goes viral, and she is encouraged by her tutor and a publisher to tell her story in a book that will be part-memoir, part-true crime investigation. Thus, the child who was left behind by the Nothing Man now becomes the woman determined to catch him. Her new publisher enlists the help of Ed Healy, the detective who led the original investigation. Healy readily agrees; he has remained obsessed by the case, despite the lack of either new leads or sustained interest from his superiors.