A dark tale of deception and desire from the author of Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House
In a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home.
In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck.
But what connects them?
When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.
Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?
Last Kiss is the first book I’ve read by Irish psychological crime writer Louise Phillips, but it definitely won’t be the last. It’s her third book, and they all feature the criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson as their main protagonist. Kate has recently separated from her partner, and is sharing childcare of their son Charlie with him. There appears to be something of a tentative flirtation with Detective Inspector Adam O’Connor, who returns from a suspension early in the book, and, together with Detective Mark Lynch, they do the majority of the investigative work in this case, with, of course, Kate. I suspect we will see more of a relationship develop between Kate and Adam in further books, but don’t worry, crime fans, romantic connections very definitely take a back seat to the criminal investigation in this book!
Very quickly, with Kate’s help, the Garda conclude it is, unusually, a woman killer for whom they are searching. Investigations into the Tarot card clue find a possible linked case further afield – in Paris, nine years previously. Another case, this time in Rome, also flags up as being possibly similar. Kate and Adam are despatched across Europe to speak to the original investigators, and people who knew the victims and their social circle.
In between the chapters concentrating on the investigation, we also get short chapters from the perspective of the killer, explaining/justifying her thoughts and actions. There are others from the viewpoint of Dubliner Sandra Regan, who is convinced her husband Edgar is having an affair. Furthermore, she believes the other woman has been breaking into her home, moving things around, as well as writing in her diary, but she doesn’t speak to the police, as she fears she would sound insane. The wife of Rick Shevlin, the victim in the Dublin hotel room, had also suspected she was being stalked – as had the wife of the Italian victim. A pattern appears to be forming of a woman who seduces her male victims, and then, when she tires of them, or they prove unworthy of her attentions, she murders them, grotesquely posing the body to resemble the picture on a Tarot card. Kate also suspects the killer has a strong interest in art, or photography, as furniture in the crime scenes have been moved to provide reflections of the crime scene. Also, all the victims had either studied art, or worked in artistic careers.
The term “psychological thriller” is bandied about a lot these days, mainly to describe any book where all may not be as it initially appears. This, however, is a psychological thriller in the truest sense, as the answer to the murders, and their motivations, lies in the damaged psyche of the murderer. For this reason, Kate’s input is crucial, and the investigation eventually leads back, as psychology inevitably does, to where it all began for the murderer – her childhood home, a place of sexual and physical abuse, where the murderer learnt to equate sex with love, as this was the only way she was treated with any affection. Here, she first learnt to use her sexual wiles. Her sole ally was a close female friend whose home life was also less than ideal, and together they played with Tarot cards and studied their meanings. The portrayal of the small Irish village where she grew up, a place where people were aware of the abuse in families, but said nothing to the authorities, rings very true. No-one wanted to get involved – although, perhaps if someone had, a young vulnerable girl would not have grown into a ruthless killer.
The conclusion of this book is truly heart-stopping, and, as expected, sees our main characters in mortal danger – I read until 4 am last night (thank God it was a Friday night!), frantically turning the pages to reach the conclusion. The “twist in the tale” is also expertly executed (the mere possibility only occurred to me the page before it was revealed!)
I have no idea how much psychology Louise Phillips has studied, but all the conclusions Dr Kate Pearson reaches appear, to my uneducated ear, perfectly feasible. It’s also intriguing, and fairly unusual, to have a female serial killer. I definitely want to get my hands on the first two by Louise Phillips (Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House, if you’re interested) and will be looking out for any further books in the series, where, hopefully, we’ll get to know Dr Kate Pearson a little better – with all the investigative work going on, Kate remains difficult to know, although possibly this is because it’s the first book in the series I’ve read. If you’re a fan, like me, of Nicci French’s excellent Frieda Klein series, or of Kate Rhodes’ similarly wonderful Alice Quentin books, you’ll find a great deal to enjoy in Louise Phillips work.
I’d like to thank the author, and Hachette Ireland, for supplying me with a copy of the book, in exchange for an unbiased review.