Review: R J Ellory – A Simple Act of Violence

R J Ellory is a writer who has been hovering on the edge of my consciousness for a while. I fancied reading his books but wasn’t really sure where to start. I’m so behind with some authors that I struggle to catch up with their latest releases. In the end I decided on A Simple Act of Violence for no other reason than someone gave me a copy and I’m glad I’ve finally been introduced to this interesting writer.

The book is set in Washington DC, where a serial killer is torturing his victims before strangling them and leaving a luggage tag tied around their necks with a ribbon. Detective Robert Miller is assigned to investigate the fourth murder, that of Catherine Sheridan, whose killing is soon revealed to be subtly different to the previous murders. When a witness to the killer’s identity is found murdered in the same manner, a political conspiracy opens up that reaches to the highest echelons of US political and civic life.

Although the plot involves a serial killer it really was more a political conspiracy thriller involving the Washington Police Department, FBI and CIA. I thought the writing was excellent, dense closely written narratives that entwined the points of view of the detective Miller, the assumed killer John Robey and twice that of the victims. In particular the killing scenes were very well done, not particularly gory but quite frightening to read, the archetypal bogeyman in your house. What elevated the plot above others I thought was how nothing was quite what it seemed. Victims, the killers, even the police had something to hide and this smoke and mirrors approach worked very well.

The character of Robert Miller, the main detective was well thought out. There were a couple of references to an incident which I assumed came in a previous book but I think was part of the character’s back story. The plot was so oblique that it wasn’t clear exactly what was going on until the last couple of chapters but this contributed to the impetus of the narrative propelling me towards the finale. I’m now kicking myself I waited so long to read this author.

Other reviews (and a mix of opinions) can be found at,  Jen’s Book Thoughts and Reactions to Readings .

5 thoughts on “Review: R J Ellory – A Simple Act of Violence

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – Excellent review; thanks! And I think you’ve hit on one thing that makes novels like this work – building suspense and wracking nerves without resorting to gore. Not an easy thing to do….


  2. Excellent review. I haven’t read this author, despite owning two of his books once and starting both. He is very highly thought of (I once saw him talk at a local Waterstone’s event organised by Chris of Crime Squad, as well as at a couple of book festivals). I should give him a proper try, though to be honest the subject matter of this particular novel does not appeal (serial killer/conspiracy thriller*) as much of some of his other ones. As I’ve just read a very good conspiracy thriller (Alan Glynn’s Bloodland) perhaps I should skip the serial killer bits and give this one a try.

    *I love a consipracy thriller if it is good, but for every good one there seem to be about 100 boring, predictable ones.


  3. I was the same Maxine, I was reluctant to try the book but it really was excellent. I’m not sure how much the CIa plot part was realistic but I thought the plot well done. I will check out ‘Bloodland’ and wait for your review.


  4. Pingback: The best of February’s reading. « crimepieces

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