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The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh: A serial-killer thriller with an absolute belter of a twist

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Entertaining: Steve Cavanagh, author of The Accomplice. Photo by Michael Cooper/Getty Images

Entertaining: Steve Cavanagh, author of The Accomplice. Photo by Michael Cooper/Getty Images

The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh

The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh

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Entertaining: Steve Cavanagh, author of The Accomplice. Photo by Michael Cooper/Getty Images

Belfast-born and based he may be, but Steve Cavanagh’s main fictional playground is New York. The Accomplice is the seventh in his series of thrillers centred on Eddie Flynn, a tough and likeable conman-turned-lawyer, leading a team of legal eagles and investigators through one of their more tortuous cases.

Daniel Miller is a feared serial killer known as the Sandman — they always have a nickname in mystery novels — on the run for a year after being rumbled. His wife, Carrie, now faces charges of involvement in the killings, or at the very least aiding and abetting her husband.

Their family lawyer, the dashing and handsome Otto Peltier, is out of his depth in a criminal trial, so he ropes in Eddie to defend her. After meeting Carrie, hearing her story and seeing the guilt and horrified bewilderment in her eyes, he is convinced that she is innocent and commits to her cause.

But there’s a complication — in fact, more than a few. The Sandman may be a monstrous creep who slaughters people and keeps their eyes as trophies, but he also appears to genuinely love his wife.

Not happy that Carrie faces a long prison sentence, he comes out of hiding to murder prosecution witnesses. Before too long, he also begins applying a particularly unpleasant form of pressure on Eddie to win this case.

Meanwhile, Carrie skips her bail — but is she a guilty woman fleeing justice, or a frightened woman who can’t take the pressure? An FBI profiler called Lake, with some distinctly worrying skeletons in his closet, gets involved with Eddie’s investigation — but is he a help or a hindrance, and what exactly are his motivations?

Is Eddie’s phone being tapped? Does Peltier know more than he’s letting on? Does Carrie’s diary — glimpsed in sporadic chapters — contain the answer to all the riddles?

This and a lot more is going on. As with most books of this type, The Accomplice whirls together about 15 different narrative strands into a sometimes-confusing tangle. But the main storylines are resolved, cleverly and clearly, even if a handful of the tangential plot points had me scratching my head a bit and checking to see if I’d missed some important and obvious clue.

The novel, it must be said, has an absolute belter of a twist near the end. One of those where you smile and clap in appreciation. A smaller, follow-up twist, right at the end, didn’t work quite so well — you get that vague “ah no, this is overdoing it/he should have ended it right before this moment” feeling — but nothing so annoying as to ruin your overall enjoyment.

And that describes The Accomplice, and Steve Cavanagh’s stuff in general: it’s entertaining. It’s not perfect by any means; the tone can be schlocky, the novel is sickeningly violent in places, the prose style isn’t particularly elegant, and some of the characters are drawn with awfully broad strokes. (That said, Flynn and his partners, Kate and Harry, always ring true for me — and even Bloch, the team’s machine-like investigator/muscle, is humanised here, quite movingly.)

But it’s entertaining, and fast-moving, and a lot of fun; I flew through the story. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, bear in mind that most published books — including those that win awards or get adapted for television or, most laughably, are lauded as high art by people who obviously haven’t read a lot of great literature — don’t manage that much.

And it’s properly exciting at times, something that many mysteries sorely lack, particularly the “domestic noir” type, which tend to stretch 100 pages of plot over 350 pages of print, and keep their one mildly exciting moment until right at the end. More than once, The Accomplice had me biting metaphorical fingernails, especially before and during a showdown near the end.

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Cavanagh also uses New York to good effect, reminding us why we love this city as a crime/mystery setting, but keeping it fresh enough that the atmosphere doesn’t feel tired or second-hand.

Indeed, there’s a fair bit about The Accomplice that feels familiar, such as the super-clever serial killer with an incongruously cutesy nickname, uptight FBI men, moral ambiguity on both sides of the law, a sleazy judge and corrupt district attorney, plus many, many scenes of people eating. (What is it about writers and their infatuation with describing the food in detail? They nearly all do it, across all genres. Anyway, we digress.)

But that’s OK. Thrillers don’t need to be earth-shatteringly fresh and original.

It’s nice if they are, sure, but more important that they deliver on their prime purpose, in many ways their one and only raison d’être: to entertain the reader. The Accomplice does just that.

Darragh McManus’s books include ‘The Driving Force’ and ‘Pretend We’re Dead’

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The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh

The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh

The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh

Thriller: The Accomplice by Steve Cavanagh
Orion, 336 pages, paperback €13.99; e-book £6.99


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