The cat and mouse genre requires delicate calibration to work. If a reader is going to have two opposing forces driving a book’s narrative, it is often better to know one intimately and the other only in passing. Ran Will Come, the pseudonymous debut of screenwriter Thomas Holgate, gives near equal footing to its leads. It’s a bold move, and it pays off in places and confounds in others.
After preternaturally intuitive cop Detective Paul Czarcik investigates a double homicide, he makes a connection with a torture murder scene across the country. Going off book, Czarcik searches for the “rush” that comes from knowing precisely where a serial killer is going to be next but not knowing whether he can stop him.
Rain Will Come opens with a scene emblematic of the lead character: Czarcik likes the platonic company of escorts and is more than partial to cocaine. He is otherwise a misanthrope, and he prefers to work from home. This establishes the character well, although one wonders how well he is paid if he is able to afford $500 escorts on an almost daily basis.
As the book progresses, Holgate loses some of the laser focus that defined his character in the outset; while a case is integral to a detective novel, much of the work’s success relies upon how willing a reader is to spend time with its protagonist. The pro-activeness engaged in early scenes seems suddenly to be swapped for a narrative leading by the nose, and Czarcik suffers from it.
The reader knows from chapter two what the killer’s motive is, and his identity from chapter four; from our perspective, there’s no mystery to be solved, only justice to be meted out. We know almost all there is to know about this killer almost immediately, and his actions are deliberately telegraphed. Holgate makes multiple ballsy moves in the developmental stage of the novel but not all of those balls stay suspended mid-air; the killer’s case study is significantly weaker than Czarcik’s and laying out the entirety of his plan so early on plays havoc with the suspense.
Holgate writes with a firm grasp of what is expected of the genre, repeatedly pointing out the difference between movies and the “reality” of Czarcik’s investigation. The adherence to a general realism (albeit one with reference to legitimate psychic powers and a literal gut reaction to key information) is welcome, but somewhat undone when one character says to another “we’re not so different, you and I,” a phrase that needs to be banned from all storytelling in perpetuity.
Chapters are structured dynamically, with Holgate able to pivot between character viewpoints mid-scene without compromising flow or integrity. The multiple viewpoints help to establish that Holgate’s own narrative voice isn’t quite as cynical as Czarcik, who is often pointedly rude for the sake of it. Paradoxically the killer is written as a bit of a weenie, but he is afforded the dignity of mostly logical motivation — even if he should have kept some of it to himself.
Rain Will Come reveals too much of itself too soon, and thinks that its final development is surprising rather than the inevitability that it turns out to be, but Czarcik is a strong enough character to ride again. Whether Holgate has already written him into a corner remains to be seen.
Rain Will Come is due for publication on 10 March 2020. A proof was provided for review by Thomas & Mercer.