SHORT & SWEET REVIEW: NORMAL BY GRAEME CAMERON

Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). 

I’ve never seen the TV series Dexter so the marketing pitch “Fans of Dexter will love Normal” doesn’t do much for me. I’m guessing it will for Dexter fans. All I knew to expect was an anti-hero who looks normal to outsiders, but believes it’s normal to hurt people … which most of us would agree is most definitely not normal. Here’s the blurb:

“The truth is I hurt people. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

He lives in your community, in a nice house with a well-tended garden. He shops in your grocery store, bumping shoulders with you and apologizing with a smile. He drives beside you on the highway, politely waving you into the lane ahead of him.

What you don’t know is that he has an elaborate cage built into a secret basement under his garage. And the food that he’s carefully shopping for is to feed a young woman he’s holding there against her will—one in a string of many, unaware of the fate that awaits her.

This is how it’s been for a long time. It’s normal…and it works. Perfectly.

Then he meets the checkout girl from the 24-hour grocery. And now the plan, the hunts, the room…the others. He doesn’t need any of them anymore. He needs only her. But just as he decides to go straight, the police start to close in. He might be able to cover his tracks, except for one small problem—he still has someone trapped in his garage.

Discovering his humanity couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Despite the fact that you’re reading this from the perspective of a serial killer, Normal is surprisingly easy to read. Cameron’s anti-hero tells a lively tale with a few surprises he didn’t see coming – most notably the discovery of love, friendship and, to a lesser extent, empathy. Interestingly, it’s from women that these surprises come, be they victim, intended victim or investigator. For example, Erica, who is trapped in the basement for some time, displays Stockholm Syndrome characteristics in a darkly comic manner – it’s not what the reader or her captor (who remains unnamed) expected. The narrative’s detached feel will frustrate some readers, but for me, I’d rather stay a bit detached from the mind of a killer. It’s not that I don’t like depth or substance in a book, because I do, but you have to remember, that despite the title, this anti-hero is not normal, and is unable to relate to things in the same way. Something is missing in him and that is reflected in characterisation that borders on bland.

This book’s had mixed reviews – it seems to be a five-star love-it book or a one-star hate-it on Goodreads. It comes across as more of a dark comedy, which will be appreciated by some, and not by others who want more back story, more of a tortured hero (or anti-hero in this case) tale. I found it entertaining enough for a Sunday afternoon, but I think readers will have to make up their own mind.

You can read a chapter sampler here.

Available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99AUD). My copy was courtesy of Harlequin via JAM PR.