Thursday, May 25, 2006

SHROUDED by Carol Anne Davis

Snowbooks, 2006, 1 905005 32 6, £7.99

Douglas likes to stay in control. When it comes to women, he needs them to be still, never changing, like a photograph... Or perhaps there's something more to his desire, a darker need that he could never admit to, at least not consciously...

This re-release of Carol Anne Davis's first novel (originally released in 1997) brings the Dundonian born writer's dark vision to a fresh new audience. As we already knew (having reviewed her true crime release, Couples Who Kill) Davis has an understanding of the deviant mind that digs deeper and more empathetically than most. And here, she proves that even early on in her career she had something above and beyond most writers who deal with such twisted minds by writing a convincing, noiresque psycho-sexual portrait of a character sinking deeper into his own delusions, gradually slipping away from the standards of conventional society.

Its an affecting portrait, not least because Davis has created a character who is not evil but actually rather pitiful. Douglas is not in the least prepared for the nature of the real world, something that is hardly his fault when you consider his mother's attitude to him and the cruel nature of his step dad whose punishments are meted out with irritation rather than any form of tough love or even concern for the lessons the lad may have needed to learn. Indeed, sins of the father (or equally the mother) play a vital role here, even if those sins are small. Our two central characters - Douglas and his shy "love interest" Marjorie - are less the result of their own troubles than those imposed upon them by their parents.

Davis also takes risks by making this book more a character portrait than a stalk-the-killer-thriller. The first time Douglas descends into proper darkness, the reader is as shocked as the man himself, and it is this element of the unexpected that keeps the reader turning the pages. Unlike many writers who use the authorities in their novels to make moral judgements upon events, it is Douglas and Marjorie who share centre stage here - with very little obvious or intrusive moralising - and what police involvement there is winds up being peripherary to the main event which is the gradual descent into darkness by Douglas and the slow awakening of Marjorie to the realities of the world around her. For some, the ending may appear a little rushed and eager to show a little sunshine in the darkness of the world Davis has created, but it does not dissipate what has gone before and makes sense in the context of the narrative and the dual but divergent journies taken by our two protagonists.

Davis is a powerful writer who stands out from the glut of psychological thriller writers by daring to understand her dark creations and refusing to sugar coat them. Her prose is understated yet powerful, but it is with character and psychology that Davis creates a book that is as hard to put down as it is to forget.

Russel McLean for Crime Scene Scotland, June 2006