Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
I thoroughly enjoyed being back in the company of Paul Johnston’s
alter-ego [the crime-novelist] Matt Wells in this fourth outing. The beauty of ‘The
Nameless Dead’ is due to the muscular writing, striated with gallows-humor
which is a necessity; as this book, like its precursors has a violent and
unsettling backdrop – however the real thrill is the cathartic nature of the
proceedings as Wells’ gets to ‘kick serious ass’ and ponder about the evil that
surrounds him and those he loves.
I use that ‘kick-ass’ phrase as the novel is
set against a troubled America, with the economy in the toilet, there is a
series of disturbing ritual murders which are all linked to Wells and his
future wife Karen of the London Met, now pregnant with his child. Wells and
Karen find themselves held in protective custody by the FBI following the
political assassinations that they have been programmed to carry out by repulsive
Neo-Nazi Satanist Heinz Rothmann [aka Jack Thompson] from Maps of Hell. Going
stir-crazy, Wells also has to confront the fear that the White Devil’s sister
[and his former lover] Sara Robbins is still gunning for him; in fact Wells’
romantic life has been a nightmare and remains so when he proposes to Karen,
realizing she’s now directly in the line of fire from his enemies. In these
adventures, being a friend of Matt Wells can get you killed, and he lives with
the guilt of association, tortured by their loss.
Still being de-programmed by the FBI from Rothmann’s mind-control, Wells
soon discovers that a series of ritualistic murders of left-wing, civil-rights
advocates have been occurring. Each murder has the hallmarks of the deranged
Antichurch and their leader Rothmann, who can trace his roots to his father’s
death camp when the Third Reich tried to ethnically cleanse Germany and
propagate its hateful ideology into Europe.
In the prologue we get lawyer
Laurie Simpson decapitated, then a left-wing ‘shock jock’ is disemboweled then
as a politician [who is on the verge of suicide] is hung from a high-rise window.
All the murder scenes have Nazi Motifs so FBI Director Peter Sebastian is
assigned to the case due to the linkages back to Wells’ enemies from the
AntiChurch managed by Hoffmann; and so the chase begins. Sebastian and his team
have to keep watch on Wells and his pregnant partner as the mind-control
programming has not yet been totally deactivated. A word or phrase could
trigger Wells [or the pregnant Karen] into remote-controlled killers.
Partway through the book, I swore I smelt cordite as I whipped through
the pages as it has no let up in the action. There are myriad twists, with an
interesting insight into the banality of the deranged. As Wells and the FBI
search for Hoffmann, we get philosophical insights into the history of evil
with mentions of the philosophers, the artists who captured the context and
workings of Hell such as Bruegel, Bosch, and Memling.
Despite the violent and
action orientated trappings of The Nameless Dead’s plot, there is an existentialist
air to the proceedings that provokes thought and introspection. I would also watch
out for Wells’ improvisation in a violently amusing final act. In fact Johnston’s
sense of humour peppers the darkness of the narrative making Wells’ journey
bearable in a world filled with hate and evil. High recommended but a warning
to the faint of heart, Matt Wells’ world is a dark place.