At the end of November of 2022, an author named Alan Golbourn contacted me and offered to send me a couple of his novels for review, and of course I accepted, because free books are one of my very favorite things. I regret that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading one of them, but as some of you may have noticed, I got really behind on my reading over the holidays, a failing that I’ve been trying to rectify now that the new year is upon us.
The book I chose to start with was Golbourn’s second novel, the 2022 supernatural murder mystery The 666 Murders (he also sent me a copy of his first novel, Famuli Cani, which I will eventually get around to as well). I love murder mysteries, and the premise of this one sounded interesting, so I dived right in. Golbourn, incidentally, is a British writer, hailing from Essex.
The story of The 666 Murders takes place in 1966, mostly in and around London, with some events taking place in France as well. Our main character is a private investigator named Randolph Landon, who at the start of the tale has been going through some rough times. He and his wife Thelma are in the midst of a trial separation; though the couple still love each other and have parted on good terms, Thelma took their eight-year-old son Matthew up to Lincolnshire to stay with her parents, and only comes down to visit every few weeks, so Randolph misses them like hell.
In addition, the detective work has really been drying up, and Randolph is worried that he’ll soon be unemployed and broke. He only has one case pending: an elderly woman has hired him to find her absconded Chihuahua, Peanut, but so far, Randolph hasn’t had any luck tracking down the wayward pooch, and he won’t get the rest of his fee until the dog turns up, whether alive or dead.
Not surprisingly, Randolph has been drowning his sorrows quite a bit at the local pub, lamenting the shambles his life has become. He has some good friends around the place, and has built up some goodwill with the local police after helping them out with a child kidnapping case some time before, but all his connections haven’t been much help in scaring up more business.
The police, by the way, have actually had their hands pretty full for the past few weeks, as there have been two horrifically gruesome murders in the immediate area. Both victims were found with their hearts cut out, and from the weird items left at the scenes, it appears that the perpetrator is involved in the occult, as the killings definitely look like ritualistic sacrifices of some kind.
Randolph, though he’s been following the murder case in the papers, doesn’t really have a stake in that investigation. So, somewhat depressed but also extremely tenacious and unwilling to let a client down, he vows that he’s going to find that damn Chihuahua, come hell or high water; it’s his only case, after all, so there’s no excuse for not devoting all his time and resources to it.
In the course of asking around about Peanut, he happens to cross paths with a Romani woman named Miss Albescu, who is camped in Hyde Park with the rest of her clan. Though she hasn’t seen the dog, Randolph gives her his information, and a bit later, she actually does spot Peanut scampering around, and immediately calls Randolph. The PI rushes to the site and chases the little bugger, but in the course of the pursuit through the dark and empty streets, Randolph hears a man screaming, and eventually comes across another murder scene which looks as though it only happened minutes before. The victim is naked and bent unnaturally backwards, with his neck broken and his heart removed. And just like the first two murders, there are occult aspects to the scene, including a pentagram on the floor and black candles burning with strange green flames.
Randolph, of course, is mightily unnerved by this, and guilty that he didn’t arrive soon enough to save the man from his horrible fate. The police are understanding, and since he’s known to them, they start to tell him bits of info about the ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, he returns Peanut to the grateful owner and receives the rest of his fee, but now, it seems, he’s completely unemployed, as all his cases have been resolved. He goes to visit Miss Albescu to thank her for helping him find the dog, and she offers him a free palm reading. In the course of this, though, she seems to have a vision of something unpleasant, and warns Randolph to be on his guard, and to beware of a certain symbol.
Annoyed by her vague predictions and disheartened by his lack of work, Randolph heads back to his office, but as luck would have it, a new client arrives just in the nick of time: a beautiful and sophisticated woman named Claret Andrews, who wishes to engage Randolph’s services. She believes that her husband Timothy—the very wealthy owner of a chain of luxury hotels—has been cheating on her, and she’s willing to pay Randolph a princely sum to follow Timothy around to see what he’s up to.
Randolph gratefully takes on the job, though he feels slightly uncomfortable with how much the woman is paying him; she’s also quite wealthy in her own right, however, and doesn’t seem to mind. In the course of tailing Timothy Andrews around England and France, though, Randolph becomes involved in something far more sinister than a simple extramarital affair. It turns out that Timothy isn’t cheating on his wife at all, who he absolutely adores, but has low-key been investigating the mysterious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and still good friend Natalie Connors, an archaeologist who recently uncovered a bizarre find in a cave in France.
Over the course of the novel, the seemingly unrelated threads of the archaeologist’s vanishing act in France and the grisly murders taking place in London slowly begin to come together, and poor Randolph finds himself caught in the middle of a supernatural shitstorm of epic proportions.
I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit; I love detective stories, and this one had a noir vibe to it that I found really appealing. I also liked the juxtaposition of a hard-boiled investigator meeting Satanic forces; it’s maybe along the same lines as something like The Omen, The Believers, or The First Power, now that I think about it. The novel is quite long, clocking in at about 500 pages, but I finished it in just a few hours, because I was curious how everything was going to connect.
That said, I did have a few minor nitpicks: while the writing was refreshingly almost completely free of grammatical errors (hallelujah!), it was very expositional in tone, particularly in regards to the dialogue. There were passages where one character would give a long expository monologue to some other characters, and while it was all necessary information that had to be imparted, I wish there had been a more elegant way of conveying these important plot points. At times the dialogue of all the different characters sounded the same, because they were all just giving a rundown of the information that the reader needed to know; in other words, sometimes it was difficult to tell who was talking, because the characters didn’t really have their own distinct voices. The bad guy, too, seemed a bit like a Bond villain toward the end, describing exactly what he was going to do and gloating over it, when probably he should have just done what he was going to do without explaining it and giving the good guys time to fuck him up.
There were also a lot of small-talk interactions and scenes with Randolph just going about his day and talking to various people he knew—the newspaper guy, the bartender, the man who cleaned his office building—that didn’t really factor into the plot in any way and probably didn’t need to be included; some of the conversations, additionally, were a tad repetitive, as something would happen, and then a scene or two later Randolph would be telling someone else what happened, when we already read about it.
Finally, there were a couple of anachronisms that I noticed; the story was set in 1966, and the police were freely using the term “serial killer,” which as far as I know didn’t come into common usage until the 1970s (though the phrase “serial murderer” had been in occasional use since around the 1930s). Some of the characters used other turns of phrase which sounded a little too modern to my ears, but this could be a case of British English versus American English, so I’m not going to get upset about it.
Overall, this was an intriguing read and a fun detective story with an undercurrent of black magic, so if that sounds like your cup of tea, then give it a shot.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.
One thought on “Books: The 666 Murders by Alan Golbourn”
This does look like a fun read!