“The ninth hour” is like no book I’ve ever read. It could easily be characterized as a serial killer story or perhaps a story of ritual murder. But no matter hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with an easy categorization.
My first impression was “film noir”. Not that this book reminds me of Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity, but there is an abiding darkness to this book, a strong sense of the underbelly of life. There is no break in the tension and very little humor or down time from the disturbing tone that Claire Stibbe manages to skillfully maintain throughout the book.
David Temeke is a detective with the Albequerque police department. While this is interesting in that Albuquerque is not a common location for detective novels, Stibbe takes this one step farther. Temeke is a British son of African immigrants to Britain. His reputation as a detective is impeccable and his is considered an amazing interrogator. In keeping with the dark tone of the story, Temeke is a tough police tsunami, but he is addicted to weed and his relationship with his wife is less than stellar. Throughout the story we are given small windows into Temeke’s personal life and it enhances the sorrowful and hopeless feeling of the book.
In the world outside his personal life Temeke does what he does best; he is fully absorbed by every bit of pain, anguish, and psychopathy of police work. In “The Ninth Hour”, he is chasing a serial killer whose MO is deeply rooted in the legends of his homeland, Norway. For this serial killer, a perversion of Norse mythology guides him in his murderous activities. For Ole, he needs to collect heads for Odin. Nine female heads.
Stibbe creates fascinating characters. Ole is a remorseless serial killer but he has elements of a lost child and at times craves love and acceptance. As he executes his reign of terror, Ole taunts whoever he can, establishing himself as an alpha male. From the father of one of his victims to detective Temeke himself, Ole sets up situations where he can threaten and bait everyone he considers his enemy, threatening their lives in the process. Risk is not an issue to him, only his ability to control situations and prove his superiority.
Part of the dark tapestry is Temeke’s new partner. Malin Santiago is a woman with a past that she is not proud of. Now a policewoman, her past surfaces in a number of ways, much to her chagrin. Like all of the primary characters in “The Ninth Hour” there is sorrow and shame in Malin’s life. What is interesting and gratifying is that Temeke takes her under his wing and helps shield her from ridicule. There is an excellently developed bond between the two, expressed in the subtle almost emotion averse style that characterizes this story.
All in all Stibbe is expert at creating a dark hopeless landscape without taking it too far. The prose is poetic as she describes the beautiful landscape of New Mexico and the characters are fully developed and fascinating. For fans of dark “noiresque” detective fare, this book will provide an excellent read.