Publication: NZ BookLovers

I have a confession to make: I actually really like Joe Middleton, the main character of New Zealander Paul Cleave’s novel The Cleaner. Sure, Joe is a serial killer, a sociopath, and one of the scariest guys you will never want to meet…but damn it, he is funny!

You may think it’s an unlikely combination, a funny guy and 373 pages of grizzly, stomach churning violence, but in this novel it works. It works because the entire story is told by Joe himself in first person, and Joe is no stranger to introspection. While he presents himself to the outside world as “simple Joe”, a lowly cleaner at the Christchurch police station, in reality Joe is anything but slow on the uptake. Joe prides himself not just on his intelligence, but on what he sees as his benevolence towards people and animals. Sauntering through a night-time Christchurch, just after brutally killing one of the local prostitutes, Joe muses:  “I pass other women on the way, most of them streetwalkers, but I don’t give them a second look. I’m not an animal. I’m not going to kill somebody just because they are there. I hate guys like that. That’s what makes me different from anybody else. That’s my humanity.”

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