This is a tough review to write. While overall I liked Fear Itself, there were
as many things I disliked about this psychological thriller. The story is about a serial killer who stalks on people with known, confessed phobias. He kidnaps his victims, and then tortures them by using their phobias as a weapon. Afraid of birds? The deranged murderer will secure you to a table in his soundproof, padlocked basement torture chamber and bate a variety of birds to feast on your flesh. Got the idea? The madman then becomes more and more unstable. His need to torture (perhaps due to his increased use of illegal drugs) becomes more and more dominant, especially once the FBI begins honing in on his identity.
The premise is great. And let me say, Nasaw's writing is flawless. The characters are very well-defined. However, there is not one main character, but clearly two. E.L. Pender, Special Agent with the FBI, is days away from retiring. Apparently his reckless behavior in a previous investigation has landed him a desk job to ride out his last days on the force. His replacement, Linda Abruzzi, has physical limitations; the agency thinks a desk job will be perfect for her.
It is annoying to learn the name, identity and role of the serial killer right from the start of the book. There is no mystery to the story, since the book is revealed from three basic points of view; Pender, Abruzzi, and the phobia-nut.
The worst part of the book is its length. It is perhaps 170 pages too long. Nasaw dwells on a relationship between a surviving victim and Pender. Though important to the story, the time dedicated is overdone. This dulls Pender's impact as a leading character. But it does not enhance Abruzzi's quality. Her role is from the desk for the most part, until the end—and rather dull. Perhaps true-to-form, the detecting is dry. The only excitement comes when … let's just say his name … Simon … tortures and plots and kills (which sounds horrible, and even worse as I re-read the line, but true).
The good thing, because I said I liked as much as I disliked, is that Nasaw is a wonderful writer. He knows how to build tension in his chapters. He knows how to craft characters and to make them real—maybe too real. The story is intriguing and terrifying. And I will read more by this author, because he does have talent as a storyteller.
Translated from the Norwegian, Don’t Look Back retains all the characters, names and places of its geography. This is one of a series of non-English mysteries now in translation for an American audience; after reading Don’t Look Back, they will be clamoring for more.