Mid-July. London. A heatwave. It’s too hot to sleep. Somewhere in a field in England, a wealthy man buries a sword he believes to be Excalibur. He challenges the public to find it. He wants you to play his game, and he promises it will be different, exciting, strange. It is. Over the course of a week, a series of bizarre stunts capture the nation’s imagination. The treasure hunt for Excalibur is front-page news.
But as the game gathers pace a series of extraordinary murders takes place. To Detective Frank Moke, they bear all the hallmarks of a famous unsolved case almost twenty years before. It has haunted him ever since. Could there be any connection between these new crimes and the treasure hunt? With his rookie assistant, Morgan Luttrell, Moke descends into a world of coincidence and manipulation where the killer is always a step ahead.
And the truth is closer than anyone knows...
Sweeping, fast-paced and intricately plotted, SCISSORMAN introduces Frank Moke, the draughtsman detective.
And here is the BestThrillers.com verdict:
The Bottom Line: One of the year’s best thrillers. Simultaneously playful and edgy, Scissorman is a generous helping of dazzling contemporary detective fiction.
In Henry Chancellor’s Scissorman, a wealthy American kicks off what promises to be the most celebrated annual scavenger hunt in history: the search for King Arthur’s mythical sword, Excalibur.
The book kicks off in dramatic fashion on July 13th, as nearly a million people watch a website hosted by the veritable game master, Callum Relph, as he buries the relic along with a current copy of The Times. For further proof that it isn’t a prerecorded hoax, he also posts to Twitter. As a final flourish, he offers an app containing clues for treasure hunters, as well as seven golden tickets worth 500 thousand pounds sterling each. As Relph hits the talk show circuit, he explains the sword’s lineage in detail, and indicates that he may host an annual scavenger hunt complete with corporate sponsorship.
The very next day, July 14th, likable London detective Frank Moke observes a far more somber occasion: the annual arrival of an envelope containing a photo from a book of gruesome German fairy tales. One such tale involves a tailor, the Scissorman, who snips off a boy’s thumbs as punishment for sucking them. The letters are torturous reminders of a string of unsolved crimes against children. This year, the letter arrived a day earlier than usual, but Moke doesn’t have much time to ponder the significance of the anomaly. He is soon called to investigate a report that a fox had been seen carrying a severed human head.
Early on, it’s clear that there’s a great deal of connective tissue between Moke and Relph, and with each passing day, Moke is met with a new surprise, many of them grisly. But in a novel chock full of clues and red herrings, Scissorman continues to deliver the unexpected in each succeeding chapter.
Throughout, Chancellor’s prose crackles with the playfulness of a contemporary YA thriller, which is perhaps why the juxtaposition of the elaborate scavenger hunt with the emotional heft of Moke’s 20-year-old case feels so fresh. While not a historical thriller in the strictest sense, Chancellor also weaves in just enough history – including art, literature and even architecture – to add a hefty dose of intellectual nutrition without over feeling bloated. While the book weighs in at nearly 700 pages, there isn’t an ounce of fat in the manuscript. It’s easy to imagine a business-minded editor splitting the novel into two or three separate books, but we can't think of a better way to start a series.
Let’s hope Chancellor has more adventures planned for Detective Moke.
Scissorman is one of those books that has had a very long gestation period — see other posts about it on this site. The very first draft was written in 2013, which seems amazing now. Anyway, here it is in all its glory, and I’m very pleased with it. Below are two different versions of the cover; blue and gold, before we finally decided on the red (click on the images to see each full, unwrapped, design). I like them all, but red stands out more in thumbnail form.
Inside the cover are some of Frank Moke’s drawings, reproduced in stages.
To see them, click here.