Hellbound – David McCaffrey
Obadiah Stark aka The Tally Man, is executed at ADX Absolom, his death sentence watched by the world’s media, victim relatives and one investigative reporter, Joe O Connell. Penning an account of Stark’s personal history and subsequent crimes in the hope of determining what elements make the sociopathic mind tick, Joe discovers clues and inconsistencies which cause him to investigate Stark’s execution.
While this is happening in the real world, Obadiah Stark awakens to an afterlife where he has a wife and daughter bound to his childhood hometown. Following his natural predatory instinct, Obadiah proceeds to torment the town, committing multiple murders before being gunned down by the police.
He awakens to find that everything has reset, with no one recalling his murderous spree a reality which offers no escape. As the scenes repeat, he is forced to submit to emotions he has never experienced before…and with it, a poisonous dose of morality.
Thank you to the Crime Book Club for giving me the chance to host this leg of the Hellbound Blog Tour and to David McCaffrey for providing a copy of Hellbound for review.
Joe O’Connell is a journalist writing a book about a serial killer – Obadiah Stark. Hellbound opens with Joe attending Stark’s execution. We are left in no doubt that Stark is a cold and unrepentant killer and that nobody will mourn his passing. The execution proceeds (no last minute reprieves) and Stark is gone.
Joe intends for his book to cover Stark’s crimes and he hopes that the families of Stark’s victims will help with his research. He stands a good chance of gaining their support as Joe has made a commitment not to sensationalise the murders committed by Obadiah Stark. It becomes clear that there is a symmetry here with Hellbound; David McCaffrey also chooses not to depict Stark’s crimes (over 20 murders) into a gore-fest tale aimed to shock the reader, instead he adopts a much more clever approach…I shall explain.
The narrative of Hellbound can broadly be broken down into three distinct sections. One section takes the form of clinical notes or reports upon Stark’s movements and interactions (including the killings) which are described in precise and factual detail. I found this unusual approach to be a really effective way of establishing the dispassionate and brutal nature of the killer.
The second narrative stream follows Joe. His quest to get to the heart of the Obadiah Stark story brings him into contact with the family members of Stark’s victims, prison employees and even another writer that wants to assist Joe with his work. Yet the deeper he digs the more he becomes convinced that the execution did not progress quite as it should have.
Now we get to the third of the key narrative streams – that of Obadiah Stark himself. Stark remembers his life, his crimes and even his execution…yet how is this possible if he died?
Stark has awoken in a town he remembers from his childhood yet he is now married, has a child and seems not to have spent the last years of his life in a remote island prison. Confused and angry Stark commits some very public murders and is gunned down by the police. The next day he awakes and finds that everything has been reset as if nothing ever happened. I must confess at this stage of reading that I had no idea what was going on and the words ‘Groundhog Day’ were zooming around my head.
From this point on David McCaffrey takes the readers on a fascinating journey. First the investigation: O’Connell is pursuing a story as he is sure the prison are hiding something following Stark’s execution. Alongside is the unexplained mystery: Stark seems to be living in a dreamlike world where he is self-aware yet nobody knows he is one of the most infamous killers the world has seen.
I was compelled to keep reading as I simply had to find out what was happening! Fortunately this was no chore: the story progresses at a nice pace (crucially there was never any feeling of plot padding) and there plenty of twists to hold my attention.
Throughout the story you find that the morality of the Death Penalty will arise but the reader has to form their own opinion as to whether it is appropriate punishment for Stark. I can see a reading group having a ball with that one! I believe some readers may start to feel sorry for Stark, others most certainly will not – huge plaudits to Mr McCaffrey for tackling such an emotive issue and pitching it perfectly.
By the end of Hellbound I was willing the story to go on. I hope that I am right in my guess that David McCaffrey has not finished will all the characters he introduced in Hellbound – there was a very real feeling that <REDACTED> was being set up for a sequel.
Hellbound is a book that deserves to be read – a clever thriller, well written and extremely enjoyable.