The Patient Man Review: The Gripping Tale Of A Deadly Small Town Crime Spree

With a nomination for British Book Awards under the Crime/Thriller Book of the Year category, it’s safe to say that Joy Ellis’s latest novel, The Patient Man is turning heads, and it’s easy to see why.

Set in modern times, the book is a gripping thriller that captures your attention from the off and keeps it right the way through to its intense conclusion. From the first chapter, it’s clear why the awards committee decided to nominate this intense thriller for this prestigious accolade. It’s an almost timeless story that is unsettling and almost frightening, adding a tinge of excitement to the reading experience without going too far.

Ellis is up against some stiff competition for the award, with household names such as Lee Child and Ian Rankin also nominated. She’s also the only writer on the list whose book was launched by an independent publisher, which just shows that indie publishing houses are definitely worth checking out. There are some awesome independent publishers out there offering incredible content, and while some, like the wonderful Urbane Publishing, have sadly closed, there are still plenty of them out there.

The Patient Man is one phenomenal example of a book from an independent publisher that’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a combination of police procedural and serial killer thriller that perfectly encapsulates the terrors of a murderous psychopath with the challenges of small town policing. As such, it’s clear why it was nominated for this award and if it doesn’t win, then that will be a very big shame.

From the very beginning of the book, the tension is palpable in this fast-paced thriller. It begins with a dream, in which DI Jackman’s nemesis, serial killer Alistair Ashcroft , AKA the novel’s namesake patient man, returns to the picturesque English countryside town of Saltern-Le-Fen. As if it was a premonition, suddenly Ashcroft returns and begins terrorising Jackman and his team. He’s been gone for a long time, but he’s been hatching an evil plan to torment the village and get back at Jackman, his nemesis, through the people and places he loves.

While Ashcroft’s crime spree is unfolding, there’s a break-in at a local gun club, and it quickly becomes apparent that the crime is linked to the deranged serial killer. Minor farmyard thefts, including the abduction of some pigs and the attempted theft of red diesel also take up the team’s time, and there could potentially be a link between them and the serial menace. The crimes are soon connected to a small local family of uneducated individuals, who quickly start their own vendetta against Ashcroft after he dupes them.

Luring specific members of Jackman’s team to the scene of his crimes, Ashcroft makes his crime spree personal. He also targets Jackman’s girlfriend and photographs him at his home and workplace, which adds an immensely creepy edge to novel’s plot. Ashcroft is both a typical insane serial killer and an inventive psychopath, so while he does have some traditional tropes, he’s also incredibly unpredictable. Thanks to the author’s skilful handling of the character and plot, you’ll never know what’s around the corner and always be kept guessing. 

The author crafts unique and bold characters that enhance the novel’s tension. Ashcroft is a psychological bully, and he launches a campaign of terror that is both thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Ellis keeps readers enthralled and ratchets up the tension by showing the reader different perspectives, so that we see the violence play out at close quarters and then watch the madness unfold afterwards from all angles.

As well as Ashcroft, the police team are also a bunch of relatable, two-dimensional characters. Ellis shows the reader just enough personal insight into them to make the reader invest in them emotionally, without filling the novel with erroneous back-story. That means that you’ll feel all of Ashcroft’s menace and evil deeds as if they’re real, and become very invested in the story. Ellis puts the reader firmly on the side of the police, giving the novel some interesting twists and unique coincidences to keep us guessing.

There is one thing that surprises me a little about The Patient Man. In this day and age, where everyone carries a glorified tracking device in their pockets and CCTV monitors our every move, I find it difficult to believe that Ashcroft could live for so long without getting caught. Even though he is hiding out in a small fen town, I still find it a bit weird that he was able to stay underground for such a long time.

Still, I can allow for a little creative licence; after all, it would be a pretty boring novel if the serial killer were caught immediately! Ellis is an amazing storyteller, and she keeps the narrative on a knife-edge from page one through to very end.

So, if you’re a big fan of crime fiction and gripping books that merge modern serial killer troupes with traditional English police fiction, this could be the ideal summer read for you.

In all, with its sleek plotting and witty dialogue, The Patient Man reads like a hardboiled American thriller. The novel has a sophisticated and slick plot with a humble and homely setting, which is a unique and intriguing combination. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to readers who love all types of crime novel and want to read a compelling thriller that will keep them guessing.

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