Portraits of the Dead by John Nicholl

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Emma wakes up alone in a room, with no idea how she got there. Shortly after waking up, a voice comes through an intercom to the room and tells her to do everything he says, or he’ll kill her sooner, like he’s killed others in the past.

DI Gravel is called in to work the case of Emma’s disappearance. Soon after the investigation, the bodies of 5 young women who each resemble Emma are unearthed. DI Gravel knows he needs to work relentlessly to catch this sadistic killer before he kills again.

Told through many POV’s including Emma’s, DI Gravel’s, and the killer’s, Portraits of the Dead is a quick thriller about a twisted serial killer and the life he’s constructed for himself.

I really liked the blurb for Portraits of the Dead and was excited to read it! The book was short, and I read it quickly and was engaged in the story from the very beginning. While I did like the plot, I struggled with the writing. The POV’s would switch back and forth in the middle of a chapter (or paragraph really) for no apparent reason. For example, if the DI was interviewing a suspect, the story was written in such a way that we could see both the DI’s thoughts as well as the suspects, which was really weird and definitely removed me from the story a lot. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the POV stayed the same through each chapter, especially because the constant switching was really hard to follow. I often had to re-read pieces of the book to figure out which character’s inner monologue I was reading.

We find out who the killer is pretty early on, which I think worked well for this story, because the killer was someone who didn’t show up out of nowhere at the end of the book. Often when I read books where the killer is revealed early on, they are completely separate from the ongoing police investigation and have no interaction with the police until the end…this was not the case here, and without giving away too much, I’ll say that the killer was more involved in all aspects of the story, which definitely make the stakes higher as a reader – it was scary!

Lastly, I have mixed emotions about the end of the book. I felt like I can see why it ended the way it did, although if I were Emma, I would have made different choices. I also felt like the ending was rushed. It was seriously 2 pages, so I did expect a little more in that regard. Overall, I enjoyed the plot but struggled with the writing. I’ve heard great things about John Nicholl’s other books, so I’ll check those out to see how those are before making any decisions about the author as a whole. I rated this one 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 for Goodreads.


2 thoughts on “Portraits of the Dead by John Nicholl

  1. Awwk so sad it was a disappointment for you! It’s always frustrating when a book doesn’t live up to expectations right?! 😭 I think that’s super interesting that you know the killer so early though. 😱 Usually that’s like the “big reveal” in books, right? 😜

    Liked by 1 person

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