The Anniversary Man, By RJ Ellory

Crime tale where three is company

The book trade has been down on its knees, praying for a replacement for the TV club hosted by Richard and Judy. The effect on sales of a mention on the show was seismic – and publishers are breathing a sigh of relief now that there will be a replacement.

A celebrated example of this Midas touch was R J Ellory's A Quiet Belief in Angels. Ellory watched in amazement as his career went through the roof. Of course, such dizzying success carries a price. Reader expectations for successive books were high, and the massive authority of that book (not to mention its ambitious panorama of American society: Ellory is a Brit who sets his books in the US) made it a hard act to follow.

How does The Anniversary Man, the latest successor, measure up? Ellory is skilled at cinematic narratives and has an overt passion for old movies. This novel brandishes his filmic consciousness.

John Costello and his girlfriend, Nadia, suffered a horrific attack from the psychopathic "Hammer of God" murderer in New Jersey in summer 1984. Nadia died, but John survived at the price of deep psychological incapacity, working as a crime researcher for a newspaper. Now Detective Ray Irving is working on the death of a 15-year-old girl along with reporter Karen Langley. Her source is the damaged John Costello. Inevitably, all three unite to track down a psychopath.

Some Ellory aficionados have been disappointed that the heightened poetic style of A Quiet Belief in Angels has not been utilised to any great extent in his other books. The prose here is largely blunt and functional, but always at the service of the author's assertive narrative style. His cinematic evocation of US locales is fully in place – and he knows exactly what he's doing. Costello, for instance, is a strikingly realised character. It's a cliché to praise a crime novel for its adroit marshalling of suspense, but there is no choice here: with The Anniversary Man, that's the signal achievement.