Not your average Joe: Paul Cleave’s The Cleaner is adapted for television

He stares at the photographs, grimacing, like he always does every morning now. ...In reality he has nothing. He knows it. I know it. Everybody knows it. Especially the media. 

"Are you sure they've all been killed by the same person, Detective Schroder?"

"Why's that, Joe? You becoming a Sherlock Holmes?"

", Detective Schroder. I was just, you know, curious." 

"Life is curious, Joe, and yeah, they're all related."

I lift my head up fast and look over at him, widening my eyes in what hopefully looks like surprise. "They're all sisters, Detective Schroder?"

I ought to get an Emmy for this performance.

Joe Middleton is your average guy - or your average Joe, as he likes to tell himself. Except that he isn't. He's deviously clever: a skilled burglar and serial killer with a God complex. Joe's playing dumb; and there's nothing run of the mill about this story.

The Cleaner

The Cleaner is Paul Cleave's first novel, published in 2006. A finalist for the Ned Kelly Award, the story is mainly told from the killer's point of view, which is not your average approach.

Clever, entertaining and grisly, it's funny too, with more than a little self-awareness from the author.

In a terrific nod of respect to Cleave, who has put Christchurch (or Crimechurch) on the world map of mystery writing, The Cleaner has been adapted for television.

Airing on Neon and Sky from 4 March, Dark City - The Cleaner stars Cohen Holloway as Joe Middleton, Chelsie Florence as Melissa, Dea Doglione as Sally, Robbie Magasiva as DI Carl Schroder and the wonderful Elizabeth Hawthorne (The Frighteners) as Joe's septic mum. 

In the book, the story is set in a Christchurch many remember: one that is much changed today, after the earthquakes of 2010/11. It's a Christchurch Joe loves to hate: the 'schizophrenic' garden city with a dark side.

Joe, otherwise known as the Christchurch Carver, ranges across the city by bus, stolen car, or on foot: from his home in a dodgy central suburb to his job as a cleaner for the Police Department (!) by day, and his Mum's place among the weathered old homes of New Brighton, to break into women's homes of an evening.

Wait, let's go back. Why is Joe working for the Police?

According to Joe, it's a thing: like other criminals, he's put himself in a position to observe whether the cops are onto him, or lose sleep forever. When something 'happens' to the previous cleaner, Joe pretends he's a few fries short of a happy meal; 'confessing' to a crime where he gets all the facts wrong.

It leads to a job right under the nose of the law. 

When Joe discovers a stranger in the victim lineup, he's convinced he's being set up. He breaks into the crime scene - resolved to turn tables on the copycat and pin all his victims on this guy. The die is cast for some good jokes on behalf of police.

Cleave adds more farce to build confusion: Joe thinks his colleague Sally is slow, while she thinks Joe is. Sally speaks slowly to him, showing him kindness because he reminds her of her late brother, while Joe thinks she's attracted to him. Will she be the one to break his veneer?

As well as being well placed for information, Joe's job in the city offers opportunities to observe potential victims in their daily routines, so he can choose a woman to follow, find out where she works and follow her home.

Not dumb at all, Joe does his homework: observing neighbourhoods at length before he makes his move. But he's not killing because he had a bad upbringing, he just finds relationships difficult.

Will he get away with his crimes? Let's just say there are several women who get in his way... 

The Cleaner is not the only story about Joe Middleton. Will we see a sequel to Dark City?  Joe Victim (2013) was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2014. In The Pain Tourist, Joe pops up in a cameo role when another killer infuriates Joe by trying to steal his thunder again.

Joe Victim

The Pain Tourist

Four down. An omniscient being. Three letters. Middle letter, 'o'. Joe.