The Art of Death by David Fennell #BookReview #PublicationDay

AN INTENSELY CREEPY SERIAL KILLER THRILLER DEBUT, FOR FANS OF CHRIS CARTER, M. W. CRAVEN AND THE WHISPER MAN. London's latest art installation is a real killer . . . An underground artist leaves three glass cabinets in Trafalgar Square that contain a gruesome installation: the corpses of three homeless men. With the artist promising more to follow, newly-promoted Detective Inspector Grace Archer and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, must race against time to follow what few clues have been left by a savvy killer. As more bodies are exhibited at London landmarks and live streamed on social media, Archer and Quinn's pursuit of the elusive killer becomes a desperate search. But when Archer discovers that the killer might be closer than she originally thought - she realises that he has his sights set firmly on her . . . He is creating a masterpiece. And she will be the star of his show.

I'm so thrilled to be sharing my publication day review of The Art of Death by David Fennell today. Huge thanks to David and to Zaffre Books for my advance copy of the novel.

Having loved David Fennell's Sleeper books (written as J.D. Fennell), I was eagerly awaiting his debut adult thriller. The Art of Death is much darker than his previous novels but features many of the elements I have come to expect  - and to love - from his writing. 
The opening chapter immediately sets a sinister tone as an unnamed man observes the clientele and staff in a café. It's obvious that his interest goes beyond harmless people-watching and that he is a practised stalker who, when somebody catches his eye, takes advantage of their social media presence to discover more about them. The internet allows people to exhibit an often carefully curated view of their lives but his intentions are far more malevolent.
Killing for art is a disturbing premise and as well as being an addictive thriller, this is a sharply perceptive exploration of how the clamour for new and provocative contemporary art which pushes boundaries risks becoming so extreme that ethical considerations no longer matter. Like a macabre Banksy, the murderous artist is known only by the pseudonym @nonymous but the excitement surrounding a new, incendiary talent quickly turns at first to disgust and then to horror after his grisly installation displaying the corpses of three homeless men is unveiled in Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately, this is just the start as he has other muses lined up and more sickening exhibits planned...
It's quite the first day for Detective Inspector Grace Archer but a psychopathic artist isn't her only problem. It quickly becomes apparent that although new to working in Charing Cross police station, she has recent history there and they aren't going to be putting out the welcome mat any time soon. Grace is a complex, intriguing character with a past that means the intense media attention surrounding this case is even more focused on her. This added pressure is exacerbated by the frosty - at times even downright hostile - reception she receives from some of her new colleagues. Fortunately D.S. Harry Quinn is more supportive. Their personalities may appear to be very different but both have clearly experienced terrible trauma and they share an inner strength which has allowed them to persevere and to overcome their pasts. Archer's determination and Belfast man Quinn's more spontaneous nature and acerbic sense of humour means they complement one another well and I'm looking forward to their partnership developing further as the series progresses.
While most of the narrative follows Grace, there are chapters written from the killer's perspective and that of some of his victims. It's alarming to see how easy it is to be catfished and how vulnerable people become when they blindly trust someone they meet online, but even those who divulge less about their lives are not always safe. Being given an insight into the killer's plans - particularly when it becomes evident that even as Grace hunts him, so he has her in his sights - intensifies the nail-biting tension that makes The Art of Death such a compelling read. Meanwhile, the scenes which allow the reader to gain a deeper understanding of his victims are poignant and shocking; I found myself becoming invested in their lives despite the terrible sense of foreboding which meant I knew they were in mortal danger. 
The calculating, deranged plans of the serial killer means The Art of Death is an extremely dark story but although the rising body count and gruesome nature of the deaths is nightmare-inducing, the violence isn't overdone or gratuitous. Nevertheless, Grace's relationship with her grandfather brings some much needed warmth to an otherwise chilling novel. 
The evocative descriptions of London allow it to become almost an extra character in the book, perfectly capturing the diverse cultural and social identity of the city. Though a fairly long novel, the fast-paced plot ensured I raced through the pages and as the killer identifies his next victim, it's impossible not to consider how much of ourselves we give away online. The modus operandi of this memorable, creepy serial killer is seriously unsettling and the twisty, atmospheric plot is totally engrossing from the first page through to the hugely satisfying conclusion. David Fennell's keenly observed contemporary thriller is tense, terrifying and utterly irresistible  - and crucially, features characters I really cared about. 
The Art of Death is a first-rate introduction to a new series and deserves to be a huge success. I'm excited to discover what lies in store for Grace Archer next. 

The Art of Death is published by Zaffre Books, purchasing links can be found here. Please support independent bookstores whenever possible.

About the Author
David Fennell was born and raised in Belfast before leaving for London at the age of eighteen with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He jobbed as a chef, waiter and bartender for several years before starting a career in writing for the software industry. He has been working in CyberSecurity for fourteen years and is a fierce advocate for information privacy. David has played rugby for Brighton and has studied Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. He is married and he and his partner split their time between Central London and Brighton.