Author: Jack Heath
Published: November 2022
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Genre: Crime Fiction
Content warnings: disturbing scenes/visuals, murder, death, cannibalism
I received a copy of Headcase from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Timothy Blake returns in a tense, unputdownable thriller from the author of Hangman.
Blake is deeply insane, afflicted by terrible urges he can barely control – but he’s also brilliant. Zara, his beautiful and deadly CIA handler, suspects a secret Chinese spacecraft is surveilling the United States, but Blake can see something much more sinister is going on. Something connected to the kidnapping seven years ago, to the technologies being developed at NASA, and to the serial killer known as the Texas Reaper.
Will Blake survive long enough to uncover the truth? And if he does, will anyone even believe him?
Jack Heath’s Hangman books are dark, gruesome and an absolute rollercoaster ride of a crime novel series. The protagonist, Timothy Blake, is a cannibal who’s worked for the FBI and has, more recently, been recruited by the CIA for off-the-books jobs based in the U.S. In Headcase he’s investigating the suspicious death of a Chinese astronaut found in a NASA training facility that has ties to a case he was involved in seven years earlier. What seems like a simple case of international espionage turns out to be far more convoluted and complicated than expected and Blake has to uncover friend from foe from all sides as he tries to uncover the truth.
I can’t believe it’s been two years since the last Hangman story! And, admittedly, it did take me a little bit to remember what happened in the last one (but I blame that on it being nearly December 2022!) but I was immediately gripped. In part because I’m a ridiculous space nerd, but also because Heath’s crime novels are the kind of crime novels I love to read – interesting characters, outlandish plot that sucks you in like a great action movie, and a web of lies to unravel to get to the truth. What more can I ask for?
Headcase is told in multiple timelines through the book – while Blake is admitted to a mental care facility, two weeks prior to that while he’s investigating the death of the astronaut, seven years earlier while he’s investigating a case that seems to be connected to the death of the astronaut, and then eventually the ‘present day’ where he solves the case – and I loved it. It has twists and and turns and as a reader I was constantly second-guessing myself about what was really going on, and that’s always a great sign for a crime novel.
I also appreciated the exploration of human beings as flawed and that just because we perceive others (or even ourselves) one way, doesn’t mean that it’s correct. Blake’s experiences in talk therapy lead him to question his own understanding of himself, but we also see how he understands the people around him. Zara returns in this book as his handler who has her own motives, and his path crosses with Thistle which is another source of conflicting emotions for him.
Each chapter begins with a riddle/puzzle to solve (and I’m getting much better at these) related to the story, which makes for a fun way to be fully invested, and each chapter has its own elements of suspense that pull you through and make you keep reading… even when you should probably call it a night.
This book, like the others in the series, will not be for everyone – there’s a lot of disturbing imagery described, particularly around Blake’s cannibalism – but if you’re looking for a smartly written, oddly charismatic anti-hero it’s definitely one to try.