Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
When THE CALLER slipped through the letterbox I wondered why the creator of THE X FILES had become a novelist, and looking inside and noticing that Chris Carter has written seven previous thrillers I wondered how I could have missed so many. Then I read the publisher’s short biography of their author and discovered that this Chris Carter is not the television producer. So I have still managed to miss seven novels – and likely good ones if THE CALLER is anything to go by – but only by discovering there are two men with the same name who both have very disturbed minds.
Though no fan of coincidence, several novels have passed my way recently from different authors which have features in common, and I will be drawing attention to some of these in my reviews for SHOTS. Some of these coincidences are in style and construction; others are in the types of crime featured. Every author handles them differently.
THE CALLER is a murderous psychopath who has taken a young woman prisoner and tortured her as he forces her friend to watch on a smart phone. He promises to let the victim go if the viewer can answer some simple questions about their mutual life but, as investigators Hunter and Garcia realise, they are questions designed to be unanswerable. The victim will always die.
Victims die twice more. The manner of death is slow but different each time, and each time someone new is forced to spectate, each one ignorant of the questions being chosen to lead only to death. Those questions in turn revealed to be mined from social media and turned against their posters.
I read THE CALLER in a day, and only when I had finished reading did I stop and wonder what it was that had gripped me, for in some ways, each murder and its description repeats the one before. It must have been the small realisations that Hunter and Garcia make after each case, but not those alone. Though the murders are brutal they are not described as they occur, but worked out later at the crime scene by the detectives and their forensic colleagues. They are identifying the how and the rationalisation of each stage of the crime.
Along the way we get some backstory: each surviving viewer is treated differently, the second particularly so, while Robert Hunter, the principal figure, is a brilliant psychologist we are told, though one whose problems lead him to the permanently open UCLA library where he can read through the darkness of the night and in his soul, yet always being called from possible soul-mates to yet another ghastly crime scene.
You will recognise some filmic tropes along the way. There are raids on suspect homes that echo those in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, for instance, and the masked villain reflects various torture porn movies, all of whose titles start with the letter S, but you will find, overall, that THE CALLER is a gripping feast of thrills, albeit one that may soon make you feel hunger for more.