Book Review: The Laughterhouse by Paul Cleave

The LaughterhouseThe Laughterhouse
Paul Cleave
Atria Books, August 2012
ISBN 978-1-4516-7795-9
Trade Paperback

As a brand new police officer, Theodore Tate’s first case involved the murder of a little girl in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The killer was caught, then himself murdered by the child’s father, who was jailed for fifteen years. In this time Theo has been a PI, again a cop, and again a PI, just barely paying his wife’s medical bills. Then, on a cold March day, the news comes in of a particularly gruesome murder, then, frighteningly of yet another.

Meanwhile, the whole Christchurch police department, including Tate and his former partner and friend, Carl Schroder, attend the funeral of a fellow officer, which ends up with a whole lot of booze floating around. Tate is a recovering alcoholic and the only sober one capable of taking on the investigation when the detectives are called out. It isn’t long before connections are made linking these murders with what happened fifteen years before, and so the manhunt is on. The stakes raise when a doctor also connected to that old case is kidnapped, along with his three young daughters.

I’ll admit it took me days to get into this story. I don’t like books about wanton killers. The book’s tone is mostly dismal and dark. Most of all, I really dislike books written in present tense, which this one is, and I don’t like to go into the killer’s point-of-view. When I began the book, I would read one to three pages at a sitting before going on to something else. But then a funny thing happened. I found a few more pages slipping past, then a chapter or maybe two. By the finale, I couldn’t wait to see how the story played out.

Mr. Cleave is a wonderful writer—although I’d still rather skip the present tense, which even at the end I found intrusive. Your mileage may vary. The plotting is terrific. Motivation behind the acts of violence is chilling, yet at the same time fascinating. Most of all, as with all extraordinary books, the characters are compelling. Even the children, one a baby, will grab you and not let go. Still, while Theodore Tate is an excellent protagonist, I believe the killer stole the show.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.