Jack Health’s puzzle obsessed cannibal investigator Timothy Blake (introduced in 2018’s Hangman) is back for a fourth go round in Headcase. The book opens in media res – Blake is in an institution for people with mental illness and is in a session with his psychiatrist. Readers may take comfort that their favourite depraved investigator is finally getting the help he needs. But nothing is ever that simple in the world of Timothy Blake.
Things only get weirder when the narrative drops back two weeks to the discovery of what appears to be the body of a Chinese astronaut in the Mars simulation area of the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. Blake, no longer welcome at the FBI, is on site with his new CIA handler Zara and immediately discounts the idea that the body fell to Earth from a previously unknown Chinese space station. Things get more complicated when Blake finds one of the people working at the site is someone he previously investigated. And then they become more complicated again when his old partner from the FBI, Reese Thistle, becomes involved.
The last two Blake books (Hunter and Hideout) were a little more propulsive but Headcase brings Blake back to his puzzle-solving roots. The heart of the book is an impossible-seeming mystery and despite being in danger and suspected by local police of being a serial killer known as the Texas Reaper, Blake is determined to crack it. There is still plenty of page-turning action, made all the more tense by the physical impairments that Blake is dealing with following his previous adventures.
Headcase is another great entry in an always entertaining and compulsive series. Blake is a twisted but self-aware monster with a sharp mind and a sharper tongue. Readers may not want to invite him for dinner (for fear of becoming the first course) but he is always fun to hang out with. And the multilayered mystery, with plenty of twists and red herrings right to the end, is well constructed. It feels a little like this could be the last Blake book, and if so this is a great send off. But Heath makes sure to leave a dangling thread or two which indicate there may be more to come.