Review – Normal by Graeme Cameron

By | April 2, 2015

He lives on your street, in a nice house with a tidy garden. 

He shops at your local supermarket. He drives beside you, waving to let you into the lane ahead of him. 
He also has an elaborate cage in a secret basement under his garage. 
The food he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will – one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her. 
This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal…and it works. Perfectly. 
But this time it’s different… 
There’s something really quite wonderful about the way a book can take off through word-of-mouth.  I first came across Normal by Graeme Cameron through reading Rebecca Bradley’s excellent review back in early February (here’s a link). It sounded intriguing and very different, and I was pleased to get an ARC from netgalley and publishers Harlequin/MIRA – but the publication date wasn’t until 9th April, and I thought I’d wait a while before reading. 

But the word-of-mouth grew – the author began to be visible on social media, a few really positive reviews appeared, and people started to talk about the book in places like THE Book Club on Facebook. In the end, I couldn’t hold out any longer – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It seems that word-of-mouth caught the publishers by surprise too – I noticed yesterday that the e-book launch has been brought forward (it’s on special offer at the moment too – only £2.39 for kindle, but check before you click), and the paperback seems fully available ahead of the original release date too. Well done Graeme Cameron – definitely some lessons for others in the way publicity has been handled. 

So – is it any good? And did I like it? Emphatically yes – really original, very readable and extremely funny, but that uncomfortable kind of funny that you get when you’re sharing the thoughts of a very endearing and likeable serial killer. The start of the book is excellent, and hooked me immediately – we meet Sarah, learn every little detail about her life on the eve of her birthday, just before our serial killer clears up the blood spatter from an artery he accidentally nicked  while killing her, and describes the advantages of a range of bin bags to dispose of her body which he’s dismembered using a fourteen inch hacksaw. We never learn the killer’s name, and we never read a description of him, but it’s amazing how his take on life and his twisted logic and view of things becomes… well, normal. There’s nothing to redeem the killer in his choice of victims: they’re not people who “deserve to die” in any way, but it’s so difficult not to side entirely with the killer and want him to get away with whatever he does.
As well as the killer, the author creates some wonderful characters.  Everyone will love Annie, Erica is complex and mesmerising, and the love story with Rachel is beautifully handled – and I particularly liked the police characters that the killer interacts with in some of my favourite exchanges.
Most people who’ve read this book will now go on to say how much they laughed hysterically at the last third of the book while looking on in horror as things unfolded. I’m not going to do that – this was a weird, wonderful and quite brilliant book, but I did start to tire a little towards the end, and there’s such a thing as being just a little too weird. But the whole book is so wonderfully written with a dark comedic edge that it would be difficult for anyone not to like – and while the book’s last quarter might not have quite done it for me, the rest of it most definitely did, and I can’t wait to see what this excellent and original author does next.
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Harlequin/MIRA for my advance reading e-copy.

Graeme Cameron lives in Norfolk, England. He has never worked as a police detective, ER doctor, crime reporter or forensic anthropologist. But he does have a website where you can find out more about Normal – and read a lot of reviews. And you can also follow him on Twitter

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