Journalist and critically-acclaimed crime novelist Stav Sherez reviews The Nightmare Place by Harrogate Chair Steve Mosby.
There’s something about hammers, isn’t there? Something about the way they gleam in bulb-light, their dark purpose, sheer ubiquity, the feel of them in our hands. Peter Sutcliffe was one of several serial killers who had a fondness for hammers and they feature unforgettably in Steve Mosby’s latest novel, The Nightmare Place.
It’s the small things that mark the best crime novels out from the rest. The tiny details that stick in our minds long after the last page has been turned. I don’t think I’ll look at another hammer the same way again after reading The Nightmare Place and it’ll be a long time before I go to sleep without first checking under my bed.
The best crime novels also have a way of seeping into our dreams, into our daily lives, they warp the way we see the world, turn shadows into looming portents and household objects into avatars of death. I can think of few other British novelists who create such a sustained level of fear, menace and suspense as Steve Mosby.
The Nightmare Place isn’t just about hammers, of course. It’s about landscape, psychological and otherwise, a psychogeography of fear and obsession, the nightmare places we all return to in our darkest dreams. For DI Zoe Dolan it’s a patch of waste ground from her childhood. For the other women in this book it’s the Creeper, a terrifying stalker who seems to intuit their worst fears.
Mosby’s crime novels are intelligent procedurals but they’re also much more. In Dark Room Mosby looked at pattern recognition and whether there was such a thing as true randomness. In The Nightmare Place we are drawn back into childhood fears realised in an adult world. The case takes Dolan and her partner, Sands, into dark and painful provinces but it’s the character of Jane Webster, a volunteer at a local helpline, who shifts this novel into higher gear. She receives a call from an anonymous man claiming he’s the killer, describing in gruesome detail the method of his crimes. Jane doesn’t know whether the call is real or a hoax but when Dolan and Sands start investigating, Jane realises she’s stepped into a world far more terrifying than any she thought existed. The best crime novels put us in other people’s shoes – news reports help us to know but fiction enables us to understand. This empathy for the victim and for those left behind has always been one of the main strands running through Steve Mosby’s books.
The Nightmare Place is a novel about chance and fate, about how we all collude in our own destinies and how the past never leaves us, shapes us into who we are and maybe, ultimately, gives us the tools we need to face the demons of our past and those of our present. A gripping, thoughtful and well-written thriller that will keep you up half the night turning the pages and checking under your bed and guarantee you’ll never feel comfortable in a hardware store again.