The Cleaner

The Cleaner is a detailed story of a serial killer and sexual deviant: Joe. This is a complex story with many social implications. The plot is driven by Joe and is mostly seen from his point of view. This novel is very graphic in terms of how he became a serial killer, how he kills women, how he tries to kill his mother, how he tries to discover the killer who’s framing him, and how Joe is stalked by another serial killer himself. It is a tight novel, very gritty and detailed, and at times sickening. I recommend not eating while reading this book.

Joe, is a man who portrays himself as a “special” person but isn’t. He has a basic job of cleaning the homicide floor; while he cleans he plants recorders, pick up files and folders to read at his home, and pretends to have a basic lifestyle. In reality Joe is full of contradictions: poor housing but owns expensive watches and suits; takes the bus to and from work yet steals and drives his victims’ cars around; seems mentally diminished however, he displays cunning and a level of deviousness requiring more intelligence than he outwardly displays.

Mr. Cleave illustrates Joe’s humanity by showing Joe’s empathy towards his fish as well as another victim who also raises fish which creates a dichotomy in terms of Joe the killer and Joe the kind guy. Joe’s relationship with his mother is explored as was his relationship with his father.

This is an intense novel at times, and it can overwhelm the reader in terms of the unplumbed depths Mr. Cleave goes to push the various elements to their limits. It is an explosive story of a man so detached from society that in his arrogance of superiority he becomes a serial killer. Since this is not his first novel, I’m planning on reading the rest soon.

Book Blurb for The Cleaner

An international bestseller and one of the top-selling novels in New Zealand’s history, Paul Cleave’s dark thriller is a brilliant, bloody masterpiece.

Joe is in control of everything in his simple life, including his day job at the police department and his “night work.” He isn’t bothered by the daily news reports of the Christchurch Carver, who, they say, has murdered seven women. Joe knows the Carver only killed six, and he’s determined to find the copy cat killer. He’s going to punish him for the one, then frame him for the other six.

     All he needs now is to take care of all the women who keep getting in his way; his domineering mother is one. Then there is Sally, the maintenance worker who sees him as a replacement for her dead brother; and the mysterious Melissa, the only woman to have ever understood him, but whose fantasies of blackmail and torture don’t have a place in Joe’s investigation.

In The Cleaner, a finalist for the prestigious Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction, Paul Cleave brings the underbelly of Christchurch to gritty life in the way that Dennis Lehane does for Boston and Tana French for Dublin. Taut and chilling, it’s a masterful blend of psychological suspense and complex characters from one of the most gifted new authors in the crime thriller genre.

Night Owl Reviews Jan, 2013 4.50