The Caller
PublisherSimon & Schuster UK
Date Published27 July 2017
Price£ 7.99

The Caller

by Chris Carter

The first question is a breeze and Tanya thinks the sick game is nearly over. But the second one she will never get right, and her punishment is to watch her best friend die.


The video-call from Karen Ward doesn’t surprise Tanya Kaitlin until she sees the tears in her best friend’s eyes. As the image zooms out, Tanya’s world crumbles. Karen is gagged, tied to a chair. A demonic voice tells Tanya she must answer two questions right to keep her best friend alive. The first question is simple. The second is beyond her memory. With every mistake, Tanya watches the murderer torture Karen with broken glass until, minutes later, Karen is dead.

Even Detective Robert Hunter of the Ultra-Violent Crime section of the LAPD homicide division is not ready for the brutality of Karen’s murder. Her face, mutilated by shards of glass, is virtually unrecognisable. There are signs in Karen’s home that point to a stalker. But there are inconsistencies. And with the discovery of a second victim three days later, Hunter knows he could be hunting a fledgling serial killer.

A murder where the criminal puts on a show via video-call for the victim’s loved one intrigued me.  It puts the story squarely in the 21st century, and adds a psychological twist to the tale. Written in the third person, each chapter follows one of the major players, the victims and their unfortunate witness-partners, Hunter and his partner Detective Garcia. This regular perspective change drives the story forward. However, there are one or two chapters where the reader is taken back a few hours, and I felt these interrupted the flow, particularly as they repeated information, simply from a different viewpoint.

I felt the savagery and gore with each new murder was verging on gratuitous. Carter has a good enough story without loading on the shock factor. This book felt like yet another contender in the gore-fest competition. Perhaps I am a lone voice, but carnage does not shove me onto the edge of my seat any more than bloodshed makes me turn the page. They smack of the author’s insecurity in the strength of his plot.

Although the plot and its running-out-of-time feel accelerates the pace, the inclusion of unimaginative character description and unnecessary detail, which is presumably meant to draw the reader in, drags the pace down several gears. Moreover, this is done in the dreaded tell, not show, leaving the characters flat. That, along with a strong sense of the author’s voice lecturing the reader, particularly when Hunter is on stage, distanced me dramatically.

Sadly, these factors also had my internal warning-lights flashing from early on. As surely as rhubarb goes with crumble, an overload of tell, detail and description go with the corny pantomime-poop reveal at the end. The criminal, so pleased with himself, cannot help but spill his motives, means and inside-leg measurement. This is great for pantomime goers who happen to be five and inattentive, but as an adult?

Although it may sound finicky, I found the number of quotation marks wrapping themselves round words and phrases irritating. None of the ‘enclosed words’ or phrases were ‘beyond my understanding’ or ‘sense of irony’, so why make them ‘leap off the page?’

Enough ‘nit-picking.’ The style of writing is not my favourite, and the gore did little for me, but I enjoyed the story enough to keep reading. I found the inclusion of the dark side of social media particularly interesting and current. For readers who like multiple murders, and who don’t mind visions of slaughter, The Caller certainly packs a punch.

Reviewed 05 August 2017 by Kati Barr-Taylor

Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.