Auntie M met Jonathan Moore at Bouchercon last October. When Elly Griffiths recommended his book, how could I say no? The quiet, good-looking attorney-and-author currently living in Hawaii caught my interest with his quiet demeanor. But his eyes lit up when talking about his book, and what a book this one is. The Poison Artist starts out strong and stays that way, building with tension that proves unnerving.
The sense of noir is fully realized in the beautiful but lonely San Francisco setting where Dr. Caleb Maddox, a chemist and toxicologist whose specialty revolves around studying pain, lives and works. He’s not in a happy place, having just broken up with the girlfriend he’d thought was his destiny, and in a physically painful way: she’s thrown a glass at his forehead and he’s in the midst of picking out shards and staying in a hotel for the night.
After cleaning up, he heads for the bar across the street, The House of Shields. Meeting an exotic woman drinking absinthe is just the first step on Caleb’s route to obsession. Soon he’s searching for Emmeline, then responding to her calls and meeting at unusual times and places, always with a mysterious air about each event as well as the woman herself. These scenes have the strongest noir setting, from Emmeline’s clothing to her actions and her seductive air.
Caleb embarks on a week of binge-drinking in his quest to find her, right around Christmas that threatens the grant work he’s doing at his specialty lab, just as he becomes involved in helping his medical examiner friend, Henry, hunt for a serial murderer. Henry has realized that a series of men whose bodies wash up under the Golden Gate bridge all show signs of severe and cruel torture and Caleb is determined to find the killer.
There are scenes that feel so real they jump off the page, whether it’s in the autopsy room, at a bar, or simply inside Caleb’s head. This is a book filled with precise details that add to the sense we are experiencing a real situation, which only serves to increase the terror. Moore talked his way into the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s office for hands-on research and it shows.
This is a heart-pounding thriller that Auntie M could see Hitchcock filming, if only he were alive to do it justice. And thankfully for readers, it’s the first in a planned trilogy of thrillers set in San Francisco. THE DARK ROOM will be out in January 2017, followed the following year by THE NIGHT MARKET.