The Anniversary Man

Twenty years ago John Costello's life, as he knew it, ended. He and his beautiful girlfriend, Nadia, became victims of the deranged 'Hammer of God' killer who terrorised New Jersey City throughout the summer of 1984.

This murderer went after young courting couples in an attempt to 'save their souls'. Nadia was killed by the first blow of the hammer. John survived, but was physically and psychologically scarred to an extent that few people could comprehend.

He withdrew from society, hid in his apartment and now only emerges to work as a crime researcher for a major newspaper. Damaged he may be, but no one in New York knows more about serial killers than John Costello. So, when a new spate of murders starts – all seemingly random and unrelated – John is the only one who can discern the complex pattern that lies behind them.

But could this dark knowledge be about to threaten his life?


From the man who is incapable of writing a poor book, this is the serial killer novel to end all serial killer novels. RJ Ellory's understanding of the intricacies of plot and character and how to allow the story to develop is second to none. Pick up his books and you will be drawn inexorably into his world from page one.

The murders pile up, one upon the other. Each subsequent slaying is an almost exact copycat of another famous death… and committed on the anniversary of the original. The tension increases in the characters and in the reader. Who will die next? Will the cops stop him before he kills again? All the while, the author releases just enough detail to keep us guessing and unable to put the book aside. It is in his depiction of these deaths that Ellory shows us what a consummate storyteller he is. There is one particular "death scene" where the killer is replicating the murder of an entire family. Such was the tension and dread in this scene I was reading the book through my fingers – as if I was at a movie – while saying over and over again…no, no, no, no, no!

Most novels that deal with the shock and horror of these kinds of crimes stick with the thrills, but this writer gives us the thrills along with a helping of reality. Real people suffer at the hands of these psychos and he allows us to "see" the effects such crimes have on those who are fortunate/ unfortunate enough to survive, thereby giving The Anniversary Man a strong emotional charge. This is particularly evident with poor, John Costello, a man who is only half-alive …and fully drawn on the page.

R J Ellory writes about New York like a native, which allows me to say that The Anniversary Man is so good… I had to read it twice! That is not hyperbole. The first time I read it to just get swept up in the story. The second time was to savour the flavours of New York and the finely nuanced interaction of his characters. Again, R J Ellory has given us a read that tempts the senses, engages the emotions and tickles the intellect. What can I say, but it's a sure-fire winner and deserves to be on every award list going.


Let's cut to the chase. This is quite simply one of the best cop thrillers you'll read this year. Or any year. It's an achievement that parks Ellory's wagon on the driveway of Michael Connelly, the finest American exponent of the genre, and no higher praise can I give.

Peterborough Evening Telegraph

This thriller was so gripping it had me holding my breath as I turned the pages…the plot has plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing right up to the final chapter and the graphic descriptions made it difficult to tear myself away.

Essentials Magazine


This is one of those police-procedural gems that come along once in a blue moon. The book is entirely free of the tired formulas that drive way too many procedurals and that often seem more oriented toward securing movie rights than telling a story. And what a story this is! NYPD Detective Ray Irving—overworked, underpaid, and absolutely dedicated to his job—risks his code of ethics and, ultimately, his life to track down a serial killer who is imitating the crimes of some of the worst monsters our society has spawned. An increasing number of leads begin flowing in from newspaper researcher John Costello, a psychologically damaged survivor of the “Hammer of God” killer. Two decades after that traumatic event, Costello now seems to have garnered an uncannily encyclopedic knowledge of serial murderers. Costello’s almost prescient information soon makes him Irving’s number-one resource as well as his number-one suspect. Although Ellory is widely acclaimed in his native Britain, his books have not yet received widespread distribution in the U.S. Following A Quiet Belief in Angels (2009), this could be the one to put his name in lights in this country.

Expect his name to be on every crime-fiction fan’s lips in short order.
Elliott Swanson – Booklist (American Library Assoc. Reviews)
One of my books of the year and a must-read for all crime/thriller fans. Ellory dazzled with A Quiet Belief In Angels, chilled us with A Simple Act Of Violence, and now enthrals with
a serial killer story unlike any other. It grips like a claw as weary cop Ray Irving hunts the maniac known as the Hammer of God. Newspaper researcher John Costello, who apparently narrowly escaped being a victim, seems always to be one step ahead. Or is Costello the killer?

Peterborough Telegraph

This man is incapable of writing a mediocre book.  All are, without doubt, first class.  Here a serial killer in New York is copy-catting past killings.  One man, a crime researcher for a newspaper, knows an awful lot about the crimes and the police enlist his help.  This is one of Ellory’s fastest reads, a real page-turner, gruesome, at times chilling, building to an edge-of-the-seat climax.  Awesome.

“Ellory’s gripping thriller should appeal to lovers of procedurals and may also draw readers of true crime, as it deals with many actual serial killings.

 Library Journal

 “Set in New York City,

The Anniversary Man is the
ultimate killer thriller, chronicling the case of a deranged but highly intelligent murderer who kills on the anniversary dates of famous serial murders from the past. Each subsequent slaying eerily copycats another infamous death–all faithfully replicating precise details of previous homicides. From electrifying start to shocking conclusion, this thriller affirms the genius that is R.J. Ellory. Britain's phenom author has achieved the status of world-class writer.”

Dean Murphy,

International Thriller Writers


“John Costello survived the Hammer of God killings in 1984. His girlfriend did not. Ever since then, John has become obsessed with the why. Why do serial killers do what they do? What made him and Nadia a target? Why did he survive? He’s devoted his career to their study and is the only one to draw a connection between a recent series of murders in New York. When Detective Ray Irving is alerted to the fact that these seemingly random crimes are all exact copies of previous serial killers’ scenes, he is assigned as lead in the investigation. But the department wants to keep this one quiet and Irving will need Costello’s help to try and catch the killer before he strikes again.
The Anniversary Man is just Ellory’s second release here in the States (he has seven titles available in the UK) and he’s quickly cementing himself as one of my favorites in the crime genre.
His stories are dark and disturbing, his plots keep you guessing, and they never end quite like you think they will.”

Becky Lejeune,


“Thank you Overlook for keeping me up till 2 am last night.
READ IT! I can't say anything more. I have to get back to it now…..full review to follow, but let's just say it's as good as
A Quiet Belief in Angels but with that sense of eerie foreboding ratcheted up even higher. Is that possible?

Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem


The Anniversary Man was an engrossing read, and I highly recommend it. Put aside your doubts about the serial killer thing-you will be rewarded with a suspenseful and involving reading experience. What I really liked about this book was what Ellory did NOT do. He did not dedicate individual chapters to be told from the serial killer's point of view. We actually know very little about the murderer. We don't learn about his mommy issues. We don't learn about his childhood problems or ghastly physical appearance. What we do learn is what is revealed in the investigation. Ellory also excels at creating characters who are three-dimensional. The dialogue is completely real. I'm actually kind of amazed that Ellory, who is from the UK, did such a great job in detailing the New York setting and police procedures.
It was flawless. His research on the real serial killers was seamlessly woven into the narrative and provided another layer of interest in addition to the present day crimes.


“An ending where untold truths are revealed, lies are uncovered, the author takes the reader on a deadly roller coast ride. This
riveting and spellbinding novel brings into focus the difficult job of any police department and the lengths that some dedicated men and women will go to in order to protect their cities. This is the first novel I have reviewed by RJ Ellory and I hope to have the honor of reviewing his next release.”

Fran Lewis, 

“In this bleak examination of murder and hope, Ellory’s herrings are as red and sticky as caramelized apples, more dead-ends than Manhattan riverside real estate. Fans of Ellory’s
A Quiet Belief in Angels will repeatedly take the wrong road, when trying to identify the Anniversary Man. Readers who expect the amazing success of that novel to be replicated by the Brit who sets his plots in the U.S. as though he intends to recolonize for the Queen will be thrilled with this
epic crime fiction novel. Written as though by a native New Yorker, this novel needs to be read twice — once for vice-grip-like details, again for nectar from the consummate wordsmith. So real is Ellory’s writing that the lines between journalism and crime fiction blur. Though Ellory’s standalone crime thrillers grab readers by the throat and don’t let go until the last page, Detective Irving has the makings of Connelly’s Harry Bosch on steroids, sure to be a repeat character — and made with cinematic success into a blockbuster movie.

“This is an
exhilarating New York City serial killer thriller that feels fresh in spite of the standard elements used like taunting the cops. Fast-paced throughout, the cops, the reporter and the reader increasingly believe John is the killer. Although RJ Ellory shows he is not The Boy From New York City, fans will relish this strong police procedural.”

Harriet Klausner,

Genre Go Round

“Ellory is
skilled at cinematic narratives [and] this novel brandishes his filmic consciousness… It's a cliche to praise a crime novel for its adroit marshalling of suspense, but there is no choice here: with
The Anniversary Man, that's the signal achievement.”

Independent (UK) 

“A favorite author always has a lot to live up to. I needn't have worried; the latest from RJ Ellory had me frantically turning the pages as I got more and more engrossed in the plot and the characters, unable to put it down until finished.
The Anniversary Man is
unquestionably a page turner with characters who are convincingly real and believable. Both Irving and Costello are brilliantly portrayed, both are haunted by the past and their mistrust of each other is central to a storyline that is both original and skilfully written. The crime scenes are graphic enough to satisfy the bloodthirsty amongst us but not too much so as to offend the squeamish. The pace of the book is just right with the tension building page by page as the book moves towards its gripping conclusion.” – Readers review

This novel will have you on the edge of your chair. What a story!!

John Costello's life stopped twenty-five years ago.

John and his girlfriend, Nadia, were victims of the demented "Hammer of God" killer who struck out in Jersey City, NJ in the summer of 1984. The murderer was obsessed with killing young couples attempting to "save their souls." Sadly, Nadia was killed by the first blow of the "Hammer". John just barely survived but was damaged both physically and psychologically to a degree that no one could understand. He did not want anything to do with the people he knew and hid out in his home. He comes out of his apartment only to do his job as a crime researcher for a newspaper. John may be damaged by his experiences but no one in the vicinity understands more about serial killers than he does.

When a new series of killings start, they seem at first to be random acts but very obsessive. This killer is killing on the anniversary dates of famous serial murders from previous years. The murders increase and each killing is almost an identical copy of another famous death including all the details of the previous crimes. John is the one who finally figures out what's going on. That these are not isolated incidents and are being perpetrated by a single person. And, as John almost lost his life to a serial killer and did lose his girlfriend he has studied their habits and can understand their minds. He has some cohorts who agree including Ray Irving, an NYPD cop who finds that chasing a bold and very intelligent killer is no walk in the park; Karen Langley, a crime reporter, who is so good at her job that she is walking a fine line between life and death; along with John they are on the trail and hoping to catch up with this murderer who wants to be as well known as "The Zodiac Killer."

From the stimulating beginning of this book to the astonishing end, The Anniversary Man will pull you in and not let go until you put the book down at its finish. The three main characters are so believable and their give and take with each other is real. I really liked this novel and although Mr. Ellory is a British author and has not had many books in the US, I'm sure you will be hearing and seeing his name a lot in the not-too-distant future. USA

In R. J. Ellory’s
The Anniversary Man, John Costello is sixteen when his life changes irrevocably. An unidentified assailant brutally attacks him and his girlfriend, Nadia, and although John survives, something in his soul has been shattered. Twenty-two years pass; he has somehow moved on and works as a researcher for a New York daily newspaper. He has his quirks, including a case of OCD, a tendency towards reclusiveness, and an encyclopedic knowledge of and fascination with serial killers. John’s past comes back to haunt him when a copycat starts replicating old crimes. As the number of dead bodies climbs, the police are under enormous pressure to identify and stop the perpetrator.
Ray Irving, a twenty year veteran in the New York City Police Department, is the unlucky detective who is assigned to investigate a succession of murders that may or may not be related. Irving is a loner and a workaholic. He shares these traits with Karen Langley, Senior Crime Correspondent for the New York City Herald. The two clash over the newspaper’s right to reveal information about the killing spree. Irving, whose girlfriend died suddenly, and Langley, a divorcee, are interested in one another, but tempers flare when they realize that they are operating at cross purposes. Meanwhile, Ray’s boss is impatiently demanding results and, in desperation, Irving turns to an expert, John Costello, to help him see the big picture.What distinguishes
The Anniversary Man is its realism. Irving and his colleagues expend a huge amount of time tracking down leads, but they are outsmarted at every turn. Progress is painfully slow because of a lack of forensic evidence, an abundance of red tape, and a shortage of manpower. It is rare that fictional police officers are made to look this clueless, but in a way, it is refreshingly genuine. After all, some killers literally get away with murder for years, leaving the cops baffled. Ray Irving’s rocky relationship with Karen is also convincing, since these two battle-scarred people cannot successfully bond when they are so emotionally distraught. Costello remains a cipher, although one cannot help but empathize with a man who, in many ways, never grew up. Ellory does not patronize us. In fact, in this book he makes a thought-provoking statement about the incomprehensible nature of evil, a concept that can be described and discussed, but never completely understood.

One quibble is the characters’ overuse of profanity; too many four-letter words quickly lose their shock value and serve as an unwelcome distraction. In addition, the narrative is a bit too long and drawn out; a bit of streamlining would have been helpful. Finally, a word of caution is in order. This story is not for the squeamish, since it makes specific references to horrific acts of slaughter.
The Anniversary Man is a depressing but compelling novel about the profound damage that ruthless predators inflict on their prey.

MostlyFiction Book Reviews

Sometimes, not very often granted, a blurb on the front of a book nails it for me. In the case of THE ANNIVERSARY MAN the blurb from Clive Cussler is "The perfect author to read late into the night". I'd definitely advise that you catch up on your sleep before you pick up a book by R.J. Ellory. This is the second of his that I've read now and both of them have kept me up way too late, or found me sneaking out to hide in the chook sheds and grab a little time with the book when I really should have been working.
THE ANNIVERSARY MAN is the story of a serial killer, but don't let that put you off. The killer is not the focus of this book, there's none of that "in the head of" stuff going on. Instead, you get a glimpse into the life of a victim who survived and the cop who, many years later, finds himself looking to that victim for guidance on what is driving a current day killer. John Costello is the victim who survived when his girlfriend and he were attacked as teenagers. His killer caught, John was left to recover from his physical injuries and find a way to live his life and deal with the mental trauma of what he had been through. His way of coping is to know serial killers and their victims. To see the patterns, I suppose to try to understand why. Karen Langley is the crime reporter for whom John works as a researcher. She knows little about John's personal life, but she is extremely protective of him. Ray Irving is a cop with his own trauma. A natural loner, the death of his long-term girlfriend has taken away Ray's anchor, left him blindsided in a way that he has no idea how to handle. In a poignant and almost sad way, a series of killings that eventually sync up to be copies of previous serial killer's acts becomes Ray's personal crusade. A desire to stop the Anniversary Killer drives him, his ability to throw himself into the investigation despite barriers, seems to be his need to be relevant, wanted, busy, connected to the world again. Ray and Karen and John somehow have to feel their way into a working relationship, maybe the potential of a personal relationship between Ray and Karen, but somehow these three people have to band together to help find a dangerous, inexplicable serial killer who seems unstoppable.
This is a very different serial killing book. The murders that are happening are all as close to identical to the past events as the killer can make them, right down to the dates, methodology, the scenes of the crime. But the Anniversary Killer is emulating more than one past serial killer so part of the investigation must be to solve how this person has such detailed knowledge. There's also the never-ending question of why. More chillingly, what next. And that is where John's particular knowledge becomes something Ray relies on – finding the next anniversary, working out where the killer is likely to strike. The relationship that builds between Ray, Karen and John is beautifully done – the potential of a new romance touching and not at all distracting; Karen's protectiveness towards John nicely balanced; John's life somewhat shadowy, his knowledge completely understandable, and so touching.
THE ANNIVERSARY MAN was as close to perfect a reading experience as I've had in quite a while, I really did not want to put this book down. Why? Possibly because the crimes, as confrontational and awful as they are, were used as a catalyst for other people's reactions or actions. The characters in this book aren't perfect, perhaps a little overtly damaged in some cases, but the insight into human behaviour was both illuminating and touching. And there's no Hollywood ending here – it's real, and it hurt and whilst, you may have an inkling of what's coming, there was just enough to make you wonder if Ellory would really go through with it. There is also that something that just works for particular readers – I really believed in Ray. I really wanted him to succeed, solve the crimes, get the girl, become best mates with John and ride off into the sunset to a happy place. And most importantly, I can happily forgive him for anything he didn't quite manage to do.

I generally dislike serial-killer novels, finding them repetitious and something of a plague on crime-fiction racks over recent years. Yet I like The Anniversary Man, which is basically a serial-killer novel. How to square these two? Part of the difference between this and other entries in the subgenre has to do with author Roger “R.J.” Ellory’s quality of composition; his prose is tightly and impressively woven, and edges more toward the lyrical than not. However, there’s also the matter of Ellory’s focus here. While typical serial-killer novels exploit the madness of their murderers, at the expense of any dimension in the majority of their other players, The Anniversary Man choreographs a complicated dance between a couple of fully realized characters, neither of them obviously the killer, but both of whom are amalgams of hope, secrecy, fear and, in their respective manners, courage. Ellory’s basic plot is fairly simple: New York City is undergoing the predations of a slayer who stages his atrocities in imitation of the work of infamous sequential murderers from the past, including Chicago’s John Wayne Gacy and San Francisco’s Zodiac. Assigned to track and apprehend this copycat is NYPD Detective Ray Irving, a man of many habits and ethics, who has been left alone by the death of his younger lover, a divorcée and possible ex-hooker. Under pressure from his more politically savvy superiors, and with a newspaper reporter, Karen Langley, threatening to release information about this string of homicides that could cause New Yorkers (yes, even hardened Manhattanites) to panic, Irving turns for help to Langley’s “authority” on serial killers, John Costello, who was himself the survivor of such an attack in the mid-1980s. Costello is nothing if not quirky, with a band of colleagues who also weathered murderous assaults in their younger days. He’s extremely knowledgeable, but also secretive beyond explanation — which is what finally make Irving suspect Costello of having more than an intellectual interest in the recent slayings. Could the cop in fact have welcomed the killer himself into his confidence? Ellory is a patient storyteller, willing to stretch beyond the necessities of his plot and illuminate people who occupy the peripheries of his captivating tale. He also doesn’t stint in fleshing out his central players, even if in doing so he swings far from the demands of a police procedural. While I pretty much expected the ending that comes in this story, I never for a moment lost my hunger to reach that conclusion. Ellory is better known in Great Britain than the States, but nobody who writes as well as he does can remain a secret for long on either side of the Atlantic.

January Magazine – Best Crime Fiction of 2010
‘Ellory’s rise to the top seems unstoppable. With his previous books he already collected a sky full of stars and this is yet another wonderful – although somewhat morbid – work of art. Ellory masterfully portrays a chilling, grim world of shadows, dark and strong until the final page.’ Holland

Anticipated last year, but now the moment is here – and very well deserved: five stars. Sparkling pearls that light up against a pitch black sky. The most moving and most humane story ever written about the most inhuman of crimes: serial killings. Fresh perspectives, too. In 1984 John Costello is the sole survivor of the crazy killer who calls himself the Hammer of God. The highly intelligent young man joins a society of peers and develops into a walking reference book on the Hammers, Gacys, Shawcrosses and Bundys of this world. Costello’s work as a researcher for a New York newspaper draws the attention of detective Ray Irving, who finds himself confronted with the almost impossible task of stopping this ruthless serial killer. The murderer is nicknamed The Imitator, as he copies the deeds of his illustrious predecessors to perfection. The impossible duo Costello-Irving come closer and closer to the truth, and thus closer to death. Characters, atmosphere, and dialogue are all exquisite. It is amazing how Ellory smoothly incorporates all facts (for all these lunatics have really existed) into the plot.

***** Vrij Nederland Thriller Guide, Holland

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