Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. This week, In The Spotlight continues a special look at the finalists for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award For Best Novel. Today, let’s turn the spotlight on Paul Cleave’s A Killer Harvest.
The story begins as Christchurch Detective Inspector (DI) Mitchell Logan, and his partner, DI Ben Kirk, are trailing a suspected serial killer, Simon Bower. The chase ends very badly, and Logan is killer. He leaves behind a widow, Michelle, and a sixteen-year-old son, Joshua.
Logan’s death hits hard, of course. But something good may come out of it. Joshua has been blind from birth, and he’s gotten accustomed to what it’s like not to see. But Dr. Toni Coleman has developed a procedure that will allow for eyes to be transplanted. And Mitchell Logan’s eyes will likely be a very good match for his son. So, although both Michelle and Joshua are grieving they also have hope that Joshua will be able to see.
The operation goes ahead, and, technically, it’s a success. Joshua begins to be able to see again, and it’s not long before he starts learning to function as a seeing person. At the same time, though, he has some unsettling dreams and visions, if that’s the word. One of his eyes is working as it should; he even gets to see the world as his father did. But the other eye is a different matter. As Joshua works through the process of starting to see, he learns some things about his father that don’t make much sense. And soon enough, he finds real darkness.
In the meantime, Bower’s partner, Vincent Archer, has determined to wreak vengeance on whoever killed his friend. He targets Kirk and everyone he cares about, and that, of course, includes Joshua. At the same time as Joshua is learning to negotiate the seeing world, he’s now facing a serious danger. He’s going to have to put the pieces together if he’s going to stay alive.
This is a thriller, and some of the important elements in the novel reflect that. There are several plot twists and very dangerous moments, and some of the characters are not who they seem to be. The pacing and timing of the novel also reflect that it’s a thriller. It’s also worth noting that, as is the case with many thrillers, there’s speculation and suspension of disbelief here. The surgery described in the novel – a whole-eye transplant – isn’t currently done, although there is progress being made. In fact, it’s hoped that that sort of surgery will be possible in the next decade or so. Readers who prefer only what’s actually currently being done will notice this. And each reader will have to decide whether what’s described in the novel is plausible, even if it’s not n our repertoire yet.
In keeping with the fact that this is a thriller, there is violence, although most of it is not described in detail. There’s also some explicit language. Every reader has a different view of how much violence and profanity are ‘too much.’ It’s worth noting that both are there, though.
Another important element in the novel is the experience of being blind, and of recovering sight. Some of the story is told from Joshua’s point of view (third person, present tense), so readers get a sense of how a blind person experiences the world. Regaining his sight is a cause for real celebration for Joshua and his mother. But at the same time, it’s not without complications. For one thing, he no longer fits in with his former friends, who are all still blind. And he doesn’t quite fit in in his new school, since he has much catching up to do in terms of reading and writing, among other skills. For another, he’s a little awkward as he tries to make sense of visual stimuli, too. It’s a completely different world for him, and he’s sometimes overwhelmed by it. The physical process of healing takes a toll, too.
Several of the other characters’ perspectives are shared as well (also third person, present tense). Readers who like the ‘big picture’ that multiple perspectives offer will appreciate this. Readers who prefer just one point of view will notice that this story isn’t like that. That said, it’s not difficult to work out whose perspective is being shared at any point in the story.
Readers do learn the truth about Simon Bower and about several secrets that certain characters are keeping. In that sense, there is what you might call closure. But there is a bit of ambiguity as well. Readers who prefer that everything be all right again at the end of a story will notice this.
A Killer Harvest is the story of a major leap forward in surgery, and of what that means for the doctor and the patient. It also raises some interesting and important moral questions about that surgery. The novel is also the story of some dark secrets that come out as a young man tries to make sense of his father’s life and of what, for him, is a new world. It takes place in a distinctive Christchurch setting, and features that city’s culture, setting, and lifestyle. But what’s your view? Have you read A Killer Harvest? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 22 October/Tuesday, 23 October – Tess – Kirsten McDougall
Monday, 29 October/Tuesday, 30 October – Mistakenly in Mallorca – Roderic Jeffries
Monday, 5 November/Tuesday, 6 November – Desert Heat – J.A. Jance