‘The Pain Tourist’ by Paul Cleave: A Book Review

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The Pain Tourist is not my usual reading fare. It was sent to me by indie publisher Orenda Books after I’d reviewed two other books for them—two of my favorite books of the year, The Book of Daves and The Rabbit Factor. The Pain Tourist is a crime novel and a little darker than most of the books I review on GeekDad. Nonetheless, it is well-plotted and compelling. 

What Is The Pain Tourist? 

The term “pain tourist” is used, in the book, to describe somebody who visits other people’s misery. Turning up at the sites of horror scenes, reveling in the details on social media—morbid fascination dressed as empathy. And so it is with the central mystery in The Pain Tourist. 

There are lots of threads woven into the plot. Some are cleverly hidden, revealed only as we travel through the story. We start with two central mysteries, opening with a burglary gone wrong. The Garrett family is slaughtered. The only walking survivor is a teenage girl, whose parents are killed, and her brother is trapped in a years-long coma. The opening scene of the murders is intense and dark, setting the tone for the rest of the novel.

The novel’s other thread follows a copycat serial killer. (I got the sense that the original serial killings may have been the subject of a previous book, but I have no idea whether this is the case.) Joe Middleton went on a murder spree but was never caught. He’s on the run and an infamous legend, with podcasts, blogs, and a whole lot of internet crazy dedicated to him. Now, somebody else has broken into one of the original crime locations and staged a copycat murder with fresh victims. From the way the crime scene was left, this is a new murderer—one who has detailed knowledge of the crime scenes. 

A short way into the novel, James Garrett wakes from his coma. While in that coma, he internally constructed an entire story of how his life was going. He wakes to discover what he thought was his existence was all a lifelike dream. Yet, as doctors and the police talk to him, they discover James was assimilating real-world events into his dream-state. With the original killers of James and Hazel’s parents still at large, the situation has to be sensitively handled. If the killers think that James might remember something that gives away their identity, perhaps they’ll return to finish the job.

Why Read The Pain Tourist?

If you can happily accept the remarkable recovery James makes from his coma, and that his eidetic memory allowed him to create a dream state in which he could assimilate real-world events, there is much to enjoy in this book. This “if” is quite a big one. The novel’s central conceit does stretch credibility, but, for me, never snapped it. 

There’s nothing too outrageous in the clues James has gleaned. Rather than pointing the finger at the identity of a serial killer, it allows the detectives on the case to see a particular interaction in a different way. One, which gives them fresh impetus on a previous line of inquiry. A line that brings in a third strand of criminal detection. 

The Pain Tourist rattles along with breakneck speed. Each thread of the novel twists and turns. There is depth to each, and you desperately want to know how each will come to fruition. The clues are there in the text, but there are some great misdirects too.  

This is the first out-and-out crime novel I’ve read in a while and it reminded me of everything I enjoyed about the genre. I don’t like my crime novels too violent and, whilst the themes of the novel are quite dark, I didn’t find its violence gratuitous or exploitative.

The central detectives of the book are DI Rebecca Kent, still on the force, and a retired detective, Theodore Tate. They work well together; both have a history which, again, made me wonder if there are earlier novels I should go and pick up. Tate is a man haunted by his years on the force and by personal tragedy. His tenacity and willingness to break the rules are something of a cliche in crime-writing circles, but I found him an engaging character. For many years I have enjoyed the novels of Michael Connelly, and there is something of Hieronymus Bosch in Theodore Tate.   

The Pain Tourist was a solid crime read that I ripped through, keen to know how everything would play out. You do need to suspend your disbelief a little, but Paul Cleave’s plot device is well worth indulging. If you do so, you’ll be treated to three well-plotted mysteries that build to a thrilling conclusion. This may have been the first of Cleave’s books that I have read, but I doubt very much that it will be the last. 

If you would like to pick up a copy of The Pain Tourist, you can do so here, in the U.S., and here, in the UK. 

If you enjoyed this review, check out my other reviews, here. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review. 

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