The Reticent Executioner begins like a conventional crime novel: a woman has been murdered and a gruff detective investigates. It quickly changes, however, into something much more intriguing: a dystopia set just a few years in the future, with post-Brexit England transformed into a far-right police state. Self-published by John Fullerton, The Reticent Executioner grapples with some dark themes, such as the question of whether violence and murder can ever be justified.
The hero, or rather anti-hero, is DI Kramer, who ticks all the cliché detective boxes: he doesn’t play by the rules, he has a mysterious past and he’s brilliantly cunning. Although Fullerton takes Kramer in some unexpected directions, it’s disappointing to have yet another instance of the white, male, maverick cop trope. Far more interesting is Kramer’s assistant, DS Arden, a black lesbian who grows suspicious of her boss’s motives. If there are to be more books in this series the focus should perhaps be on Arden, not Kramer.
The book is a relatively short read and it is genuinely gripping. Fullerton is evidently an excellent storyteller, although his writing requires a bit more editing. There are some absurdly long sentences and a distracting number of typos that ought to have been spotted by a good proofreader.
The terrifying world depicted in the novel clearly owes a lot to the works of George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, and there are obvious parallels too with the Third Reich. But vivid though Fullerton’s dystopian nightmare-world is, its brutality is too extreme to feel real, because the reader is never shown how the country got to this point. Society appears to have broken down completely and yet people still get on with their everyday lives. Some of the allusions to contemporary issues are a bit too on the nose, and Fullerton has a habit of telling instead of showing us integral information about the plot or the characters.
This novel is not for the faint hearted with some gruesome scenes. It’s by no means a perfect book, but this rough around the edges novel has undoubted merit. So bleak is its outlook, it makes our own reality seem positively sunny.