I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Poison Artist is a dark, tense and disturbing psychological horror which had me captivated throughout.
It’s about Caleb Maddox, a toxicologist working in San Francisco, studying the scientific effects of pain. His life is turned upside down after an argument with his girlfriend finds him staying in a hotel and meeting a mysterious woman whom he promptly becomes obsessed with, before quickly being sucked into a serial killer mystery.
There’s lots going on, and the author delves straight into the action with very little scene-setting prelude. Who is Caleb? Why did his long-term girlfriend throw a glass at him before throwing him out of the house? And why does he become obsessed with this chance meeting with a woman in a bar? It feels like we are thrown right into the heart of the story and the core of Caleb’s obsession, with the protagonist’s patchy background only gradually being revealed as the story continues.
What this writer does brilliantly is create atmosphere; the intense, almost claustrophobic, feel of paranoia and mystery is present from the very beginning and only intensifies as the story continues. It’s downright creepy at times; Caleb’s best friend, Henry, works in a morgue, and Moore doesn’t spare us any of the gruesome details in the post-mortem process.
As Caleb’s life spirals more and more out of control, the reader has no idea what is going. Caleb’s obsession with the mysterious woman, Emmeline, is captured so succintly, idolising her as if she has come from another world. “As if she’d stepped out of a silent film, or crawled down from one of the alcoves where previously she’d been holding up a bronze olive brand, casting light and shadow.”
Then there’s the setting – San Francisco – which is brought to life so it almost feels like character in itself. As Caleb cruises along the iconic Golden Gate Bridge searching for answers, I almost felt it was as familiar to me as it was to him, even though I’ve never been there in my life. He doesn’t just explore the local tourist spots though; we’re also exposed to the darker, seedy side to the city, from the local morgue to the underground bars, all described in a way which is both vivid and dreamlike. “In those moments, the city was a dreamscape. A dream she moved through as freely as fog.”
Over all, The Poison Artist is a suspenseful, chilling read which kept me guessing up until the very final pages. I did find it slightly lacking depth in terms of character development – but I think this may be intentional from the author; keeping the reader in the dark about the characters just adds to the intrigue. It’s a book which had me completely entranced while reading but left little last impact. However, I’d definitely recommend it to any fans of horror, looking for a book to keep them up at night.