The Resident by David Jackson
Thomas Brogan is on the run. He’s killed people – quite a few, it turns out – and the police are on his tail. As he legs it through the streets and alleys of the urban sprawl somewhere in the UK, he runs past a terrace of houses. The one on the end seems empty, so he tears away some of the boards and scrambles inside. Safety. The police continue on past and he can breathe easy at last.
He starts to explore. The house is truly abandoned, without running water or electricity. Serial killers like Brogan tend to act on impulse, and he didn’t pack a lunch before dispatching his latest victims and thus has nothing to eat or drink. Further exploration leads him up into the loft space and – bingo – the party walls above the terrace have gaps in them, meaning he’s able to creep along and spy on his new neighbours.
The Resident is a thriller that thrives on this cunning set-up devised by Scottish crime author David Jackson. It’s a simple book in many ways. There aren’t lots of characters, the setting doesn’t change, and we can get close in on a serial killer and a set of victims. An old lady called Elsie lives in the first house and when she’s asleep at night Brogan drops in through the ceiling hatch to siphon food and drink from her fridge. In the next house is a middle-aged couple who constantly argue and own a huge hound. Perhaps he’ll limit his visits to their home.
It’s the house at the far end of the terrace he’s most interested in. That’s where Colette and Martyn live – a young couple, married for a year or two, who happen to have a small hole in their bedroom ceiling… Brogan starts to fantasise about Colette and imagine how he might torture and kill both of them. A plan begins to form in his head.
One of the delights of The Resident is reading Brogan’s internal dialogue, a great source of dark humour in the novel. His first voice is the more visceral one, a persona grounded in the real world but also driven by impulse. The second voice is that of an evil schemer, which chastises and eggs on the primary personality in equal measure. They are like Smeagol and Gollum in many ways, but living in a suburban attic.
Another strong point of the novel is the character development. Encounters Brogan has with some of the characters have an effect on him that takes him by surprise. He begins to enjoy the game more and more, which prolongs the lives of the people down below. Then he starts to wonder about whether he actually wants to kill them or not… As memories of his own past start to surface, his voices come into increasing conflict.
Elsie, Colette and Martyn become interesting characters as well, each with their own issues. Brogan uses his position to manipulate them, taking ever greater risks as he does so, much to the annoyance of his bloodthirsty second personality. While Colette and Martyn don’t seem fully formed, and are rather plain and predictable at first, author Jackson’s big twist is rooted in their relationship and their secrets, which Brogan tries to exploit. It’s a terrific twist that you won’t see coming as this intelligent and enjoyable crime novel rises to its thrilling climax.
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