The Pain Tourist – Paul Cleave’s masterpiece

Pain tourists - people who revel in the misery of others. ... when the TV shows and podcasts aren't enough for them, they break into houses to collect souvenirs.

They wonder what it's like being either killer or victim. They slake that curiosity by visiting places where the terrible happened, and the next thing you know they're going from "how did this happen?" to  "how can I make this happen?" 

The Pain Tourist

Christchurch mystery writer Paul Cleave's new book is a masterpiece. It's gripping, compelling and heartfelt. If you're into mystery writing and don't read this book, you've missed out.

Cleverly plotted and language rich, The Pain Tourist bulges with characters that really get under your skin, and the setting is truly brilliant. 

Cleave intertwines three plot lines, which equals three killers. It's no mean feat but Paul makes it easy to follow and ties up every last loose end - perhaps not exactly as the reader had imagined, but it's satisfying, all the same.

The cast in this story are believable, relatable characters. Each tells the story from their different points of view, balancing the darkness with more than a few chuckles.

"He wiggles away from the stairs. His legs are jelly, the floor quicksand, the walls are the sides of a sinking boat. But to stay on the floor means capture."

James is a young man who has been in a coma for nine years, shot in the head during the cold-blooded murder of his parents. His sister Hazel has continued to visit him all that time and is prepared to take on his rehabilitation: after all, he saved her life.

Doctor Wolfgang McCoy - (what a name!) saved James' life and is there to help him and Hazel face the future. There are also some very unsavory criminals, including one who wants to emulate an earlier Cleave villain, namely the Christchurch Carver.

Tate: "People say you'll burn anybody who gets in the way of you finding the truth." says McVicar.

Cleave brings in some old favourites to protect the unsuspecting public: DI Rebecca Kent (The Quiet People); good with instincts and a gun, and Theodore Tate, a former policeman who now works on crime scene re-enactments for TV on New Zealand Crime Busters.

"The night her parents died, she (Hazel) asked you if it was your job to stop monsters. You said it was." Tate slowly nods. "I remember." "Do you still believe that?" "More than ever." "I believe that too. Yet all we did was serve this monster up his next victim."

The setting for The Pain Tourist is Paul's pièce de résistance. As in all but one of his canon of books (Whatever it Takes, set in the U.S.) Paul sets the story in Christchurch, with its rush hour traffic and rain-soaked winters. Behind this lurks Coma World; a truly wonderful piece of imagination.

Wolfgang watches as James struggles to process the information, his face riddled with the pain of what he's being told. Ironically, this is a good thing because it tells McCoy the damage he feared all those years ago may have been avoided. But for James, it's as though his parents only died two minutes ago.

Coma World is an alternative reality for James: he's lived there for the last nine years; growing into a young man, attending university; his parents still alive. Can you imagine the shock?!

Paul conveys much emotion through this character:

The last nine years are so solid, so set in stone, that it will take more than words to shake those foundations. Knowing this isn't real, knowing his parents are alive, that this is some kind of trick calms him somewhat, but still leaves him concerned as to what is going on here. His parents are fine. The real Hazel is engaged to a man named GJ. His mum is selling paintings and his dad turned Hazel's room into a library.

How can I grieve for parents who never died?

Born with an eidetic (photographic) memory, James can return to Coma World and access any 'file' from the cabinets kept in the vast warehouse there. Can he find any evidence to help catch his parents' killers, almost a decade after the fact? Maybe, and that maybe is enough to make him and his sister targets once more. But that's not all. James has turned people who have been in the hospital into characters in his own world; retaining facts about some of them that are also incriminating.

There is some great policing in this story. For example, DI Kent goes through a month's worth of footage in the parking building where the Tates' killers stole the vehicle used that night. Cleave raises some very valid questions about the state of coma: James asks himself, 'will you go back into it if you fall asleep/experience more trauma? While the Police ask, 'Are the memories reliable?'

Cleave also references real cases in the media to add weight to his storyline - you don't have to look far, only last week there was a serial killer cop in the news. 

Kent: "It makes her think of Joe Middleton, and how he flew under the radar here, all those years vacuuming the same floors."

The Pain Tourist also hails the return of The Christchurch Carver who raises his head in a very timely cameo : The Cleaner, in which The Carver first appears, is being filmed at the moment. It's also PC's first book (The Pain Tourist is lucky number thirteen).

I often offer Cleave's works to customers who can't get their hands on Lee Child's books, as Paul can equal any international crime writer on the shelf: his books are fast-paced, adventurous and he's tough on the characters who are trying to solve the crime.

Further reading