A motorway service station on the M1: dimly lit, run down, poorly supervised, flickering lights, dark corners; a favourite stopover for long-distance lorry drivers on their way up north from London. Behind it, a body is found in a ditch, that of a girl barely out of her teens. She appears to have no family, no friends, no connections anywhere. Other girls have gone missing in the vicinity and no one has stepped forward to claim them.
I've been happily reading the Anna Travis series by Lynda La Plante since the first book and enjoying them. Despite a few odds and ends that can be mildly annoying. Ongoing romantic angst, a tricky senior officer (in this case the early on love interest as well), and some seriously big books without always having quite enough story to fill out all of the pages.
BLIND FURY, unfortunately, nearly defeated me before the end. Which is a pity. Because the investigative elements of this book are actually not too bad. It does take a while for things to get moving mind you - but it's an interesting sort of a case, with the bodies of two young unidentified girls and an identified older prostitute seemingly having little in common. Aside from the circumstances of the dumping of their corpses, and the way in which they were raped and killed. Identifying the victims requires a lot of good old fashioned police investigative work - a lot of which is done by the team that Anna is working with - with flashes of insight from Anna herself. At the same time, for reasons best known to DCS Langton, Anna and a colleague also find themselves visiting a maximum security jail to discuss the case with a previously convicted multiple murderer who claims he has a unique insight into the mindset of this new killer.
Langton and Anna have a romantic history (they lived together at one point) and both have moved on. A while ago. It is mentioned, not quite as frequently as in earlier books, and it's sort of spiced up a little with some vaguely longing behaviour from Langton which seems to cause Anna to realise, frequently, that she's moved on. Moved on to the point where she forms a relationship with one of the guards on the unit where killer Cameron Welsh is held. And at this point the personal elements of the story start declaring themselves in bold face letters, with a little neon decoration for good measure.
BLIND FURY heads off into unbelievable territory fairly quickly - with the unfathomable concentration on an unconnected, unqualified, convicted killer as some sort of "expert" witness in the case. Which didn't stack up well on it's own, let alone when you also have to accept some of the leaps of brilliance or "intuition" elements of the normal Anna investigation style. Normally this sort of thing is a little easier to swallow as previous books have belted along at a good pace, but this one dragged. As the focus is increasingly on Anna and her personal life, the concentration on the actual investigation wanes - and that got really annoying, as the process of identifying the two unknown girls, connecting them to the dead prostitute and then the painstaking work required to try to identify suspects was reasonably compelling. Or at least it felt so stacked up beside the inevitability of the trainwreck that is Anna's personal life.
Overall there just wasn't enough of the good elements to hide or compensate for the increasingly sinking feeling of inevitability that hit as soon as a new man walked into Anna's life and the book dragged on to its foreseeable and really disappointing conclusion.
THE OLD SCHOOL - P.M. Newton
Sydney, 1992. Nhu 'Ned' Kelly is a young detective making her way in what was, until recently, the best police force money could buy. Now ICAC has the infamous Roger Rogerson in the spotlight, and the old ways are out. Ned's sex and background still make her an outsider in the force, but Sydney is changing, expanding, modernising, and so is the Job.
As I was reading this book I couldn't help but create a checklist of the things that make up seriously good crime fiction for me, and apply it as I went.
A sense of place that puts you right on the spot, without turning into a travelogue. Something that gives you a sense of the smell, the look, the way that people move around and interact with their location. THE OLD SCHOOL is set in Bankstown, a suburb of Sydney almost tailor-made for the action that is taking place - multitudes of cultures living up close and personal, dodgy dealings in all walks of life, overcrowded streets, haves and have nots, development and profound poverty, traffic and dust. Aboriginal activists are still fighting for land rights and against deaths in custody. The Prime Minister's famous Redfern Speech gets a mention. There is such a strong sense of the place, and the timeframe in this book, that I'd swear you can smell the kebabs she describes.
A solid plot, a believable set of circumstances in which people find themselves pushed to the limit, achieving great things, dealing with other people, solving problems. The events of the book - the discovery of two skeletons in the concrete foundations of a building being demolished and the death of an old homeless Aboriginal man are interwoven with the professional and personal life of Nhu 'Ned" Kelly. Ned is a young, mixed race woman, working her way towards promotion / change within the NSW police, at a time that ICAC (the Independent Commission Against Corruption) investigations are carefully dismantling the careers of many around her. It's a nice touch to weave the reality of the ICAC investigations, and mentions of some of its more notorious participants into the daily working life of Ned - adding not just a sense of realism, but giving readers a timeframe without having to stress dates. Perhaps there are a few elements in the plot that rely a little too much on co-incidence but frankly the way that THE OLD SCHOOL lays that out - well coincidences do happen.
Good characters, including some growth, a bit of backstory, a realistic feeling of people who aren't perfect, who make mistakes, who do good, and bad things. What glues the elements of this book together are the characters that Newton has built. Ned, her mentor and boss TC, her sister Linh and aunt MM, along with various other police and members of the Aboriginal community. Whilst it's undoubtedly Ned's story, all the other players get their moments, and provide a great supporting role. Newton also draws a very sensitive portrayal of being the child of a Vietnam vet in Australia, whilst slowly revealing the truth behind the death of Ned's parents, many years ago.
Social observation - exploring real things from real life that aren't right. THE OLD SCHOOL does touch on a lot of issues - police and official corruption, organised crime, Aboriginal activism and land rights, fallout from the Vietnam war. It uses all of these elements as aspects of the plot - there's never any sense of lecturing or pushing a barrow. Rather each element is revealed as part of the ongoing investigation, the lives of the characters, as aspects of the revelations leading to a solution.
Finally realism. Not to the point of user manual accurate - but a real feeling that there are elements of the story, the setting, the events that are being presented that have a believability about them (not that I actually care if they are or aren't 100% realistic or accurate - I just want to feel like the author knows what they are talking about). THE OLD SCHOOL does this in spades.
According to the blurb on THE OLD SCHOOL, Newton worked in the NSW police force for thirteen years, and this is her first novel. If this is a debut - bring on a whole lot more of the series please.
BAD INTENTIONS - Karin Fossum
Early one September three friends spend the weekend at a remote cabin by Dead Water Lake. With only a pale moon to light their way, they row across the water in the middle of the night. But only two of them return, and they make a pact not to call for help until the following morning.
Karin Fossum is an author who uses observation acutely, whilst being more than willing to play with both expectations and the outer reaches of readers' comfort zones. Each of her books uses a different type of scenario to explore human behaviour and quirks. In BAD INTENTIONS she is looking at the nature of manipulation, conscience, and absolute and total egocentricity. She's also very very good at creepy - be it the characters or the setting, and in BAD INTENTIONS there's some of each.
BAD INTENTIONS is the ninth novel overall, seventh available in English, from Norwegian writer Fossum's series based around Inspector Konrad Sejer. These books are all psychological thrillers, within a police procedural setting. But really, the point of all of all of them is to look into a variety of different mindsets - that of the person committing the crime, and often also those observing or affected.
BAD INTENTIONS is about three men - Alex, Reilly and Jon. Friends from childhood, Jon suffers from anxiety attacks and has such severe psychological problems that he's been hospitalised. Alex and Reilly have taken him to their favourite place, a remote cabin in the forest beside a lake, as a treat - to try to cheer him up. Restless the 3 friends row out onto Dead Water Lake, where Jon panics and jumps into the water. One friend wants to save him, the other stops him. A shared story is concocted, suicide is blamed, and they wait until the following morning before calling the police. Konrad Sejer is assigned the case and he and his team quickly start to see inconsistencies, not only in the stories that the boys are telling, but also in Jon himself. Suicide seems so unlikely for someone improving, developing relationships, sorting his life out.
This is a very clever plot that effortlessly demonstrates the snowballing affect of attempted cover ups. In this case, the cover-up of Jon's death is just yet another link in a chain of lies and bad choices (intentions if you like) that goes way back. But as with any of Fossum's books - it's not just about the cover-up, BAD INTENTIONS is also about friendship, damaged people and breathtaking ruthlessness.
Best of all, BAD INTENTIONS is extremely believable. Okay so that's probably not a "best" thing, but this book describes events that are totally feasible - there isn't a single moment's reading where you are left thinking "no, surely not". Cleverly written, insightful and informative, this is a book that is suspenseful and entertaining whilst also being extremely thought-provoking. Exactly what you'd expect from this fantastic series.
BENEATH THE BLEEDING - Val McDermid
When Robbie Bishop, star midfielder for the Bradfield Vics, is poisoned by a rare and deadly toxin, profiler Dr Tony Hill and trusted colleague DCI Carol Jordan have their work cut out for them. Robbie was adored, so the public wants answers - but the answers aren't coming, and trails are running cold.
Then a bomb explodes in the football stadium, causing massive casualties - and another man dies from poisoning. Is there a link between the cases? And what are the motives for these crimes?
BENEATH THE BLEEDING is the fifth book in the Tony Hill / Carol Jordan series from Scottish writer Val McDermid. Which fans of this writer will already know. Fans will also know that anybody as daft as me, who would leave this book on the review pile for as long as I have, is really missing out on a very good thing.
Now there are plenty of serial or multiple killer books floating around out there, and many readers are well over the whole idea, but you do have to give a moment's thought to revising that attitude when the writer is as talented and assured as McDermid. BENEATH THE BLEEDING grabs the reader from the opening scenes - when a star footballer is admitted to hospital, dying slowly with nobody able to identify the cause. And therein lies the whole pattern of this book - nothing is obvious, nothing is initially as it seems, nobody is quite what they are stacked up to be. Nothing makes sense. Not the series of poisonings, using very obscure toxins. Not the bomb exploding in a football stadium being obviously a terrorist attack. Not the friendship / ongoing dance between Tony and Carol. Not the relationship between Tony and his mother.
There are some serious complications in Carol's investigation of these poisonings. Firstly Tony's laid up in hospital - his leg badly broken by a psychiatric patient off his medication and out of control. Tony's insight in investigations has progressed to the point where you might call it "profiling" but it's much more than that. It's all about thinking his way into the killer's head - giving Carol and her team insights into why / how or what the killer might be doing / feeling / seeing / trying to achieve. It's harder to do that when you're laid up in a leg brace in a hospital bed, and you cannot see the reactions of people, can't direct the questioning. Add to that Tony's frustrated by his infirmity and confused by his mother's presence at his bedside. The terrorist bombing adds its own complications bringing the specialist squad to town - not only do they take over the bombing investigation, they do their darned best to bully boy, huff, puff and generally stuff it up into the bargain. And they don't accept input from Carol's team - who are a crack squad in their own right, and they know their own patch very very well.
I hadn't read a Tony Hill / Carol Jordan book for a while - I think what little of the TV series I watched put me off a little. The Tony Hill of the books is a complicated, tricky individual - very much a "physician heal thyself" sort of a character. Jordan's equally complicated, prickly, determined. It's very easy to see how a friendship has developed between these two characters, and how the ever-present potential romance is almost threatening - rather than something comforting that they should be working towards. Ultimately, what comes out of BENEATH THE BLEEDING is a good, nicely twisty plot, a lot of tension and some seriously paced action. There's a good ensemble cast, although the concentration on the two main characters does mean that they disappear a little into the background. There's a good balancing of the personal and the professional, as well as the frustration and elation of difficult investigations and the pressures that Tony and Carol both feel - from others and from themselves.
WATCH THE WORLD BURN - Leah Giarratano
Miriam Caine is dining with her son in an up-market restaurant when she bursts into flames.
The restaurant's manager, ex-cop Troy Berrigan, is first to Miriam's aid, but she later dies of her injuries. When police find accelerants on the victim, attention is turned to their whistleblowing former colleague, the only person close enough to have set her on fire.
Clinical psychologist and best-selling author Leah Giarratano is known for exploring various criminal and/or psychological behaviours in all of her books, and in WATCH THE WORLD BURN, the fourth in the Sergeant Jill Jackson series, she's exploring family, along with extreme psychopathic behaviour. Whilst earlier books clearly demonstrate Giarratano's own background in her deft handling of the extremes of human behaviour, somehow, WATCH THE WORLD BURN is more assured, more informative, more affecting and profoundly unsettling.
Readers of the earlier books will know that Jill Jackson had an horrendous experience as a young girl - kidnapped, raped and tortured. Her ongoing battle to cope and move on is an underlying thread in all the books in this series, but in WATCH THE WORLD burn we see Jill put under the most extreme personal pressure and we watch as she completely falls apart, and starts to put herself back together again.
We also watch as a series of different sorts of families cope. Jill's family continue the struggle to support both of their daughters - both victims of Jill's childhood experience in their own ways. We also watch as a young Aboriginal ex-cop struggles to rebuild his life after he was shot, wounded, pushed from the force after he became a whistleblower. As the sole carer for his much younger brother and sister, Troy Berrigan has a family that was torn apart by so many of the problems in Aboriginal society, being put back together by their individual and collective strength. Then there is the family of Miriam Caine. Her son and granddaughter are pulled into Troy and Jill's circle after Miriam bursts into flames one night the very up-market restaurant that Troy manages, dying a painful and seemingly inexplicable death. Followed by a spate of seemingly unconnected acid and arson attacks around Sydney, the police investigation slowly weaves the stories of Jill, Troy and Miriam's families together.
Balanced well between the police investigation and the various personal stories, WATCH THE WORLD BURN quickly becomes an emotional rollercoaster, although don't for a moment think that means that the reader is left feeling manipulated or over-wrought. It's searing in its portrayal of desperation, pain, suffering, madness and hope. There's humour and great humanity here as well, there are strong and safe characters balancing out the damaged. And in creating a bad guy who is somewhat elusive Giarratano has created what seems to be a pitch perfect portrayal of a psychopath - distant, illogical, slightly out of focus even, but ultimately inexplicable.
Readers of Giarratano books need to be aware that they aren't going to be in for an easy read, but they are absolutely guaranteed to feel something. You may also learn something about the slender threads that some people balance on every day. But you cannot come away from WATCH THE WORLD BURN unaffected by the characters created, the pain that they feel, and the nature of nurture.
GUNSHOT ROAD - Adrian Hyland
Emily Tempest is small, black, as snaky as a taipan's tooth and is the woman least likely ever to embark on a career in policing. But her old mate Superintendent Tom MacGillivray has persuaded her to sign on as the Aboriginal Community Police Officer for the outback (not to mention throwback) township of Bluebush.
GUNSHOT ROAD is the second Emily Tempest novel from Australian author Adrian Hyland. Set in the outback of Australia, GUNSHOT ROAD has one of those magnificently authentic Australian voices that you just know comes from an author who knows his place, and his characters very very well.
Emily Tempest is a tricky woman. She's one of those mouthy, stubborn, opinionated women who will do what she believes is right, no matter who or what says no. She's going to stick to her case, she's going to support her people, she's going to follow her instinct - and everybody else, well they can like it or lump it. Either way - their choice. Emily's her own woman. Joining the police seems like an inexplicable decision for a woman like Emily. And then again, it doesn't - nothing like fighting the system from within after all. Besides, none of her colleagues have the slightest idea what or who she is or what she'll do next. Least of all somebody "Acting" as the boss. Poor Cockburn - he's new in town and he doesn't quite get the idea that you never, ever ever poke a snake with a stick.
When Doc is found dead in his shack, a hammer in his throat and his latest combatant drunk and snoring away in the bunk beside him, Cockburn and just about everybody else is happy to accept the bleeding obvious. Emily knows something's not right and she knows these people - Doc, the accused Wireless, the community, and she comes to know the artist sitting on the rockface above Doc's who can also see the strange patterns in the landscape.
DIAMOND DOVE, the first Emily Tempest novel was a really really good book, but GUNSHOT ROAD is more. Much much more. Hyland's taken this book further into country, aboriginal lore and lifestyle. Whilst weaving a tale of death, deception and much nefarious goings on, which is a reasonable puzzle, carefully laid out, and ultimately plausible. Perhaps a little too plausible. But more than that, into this western "plausibility" Hyland has seamlessly woven Aboriginal lore and dreaming. He's also not shied away from the less savoury aspects of these outback communities and the ravages of the difficult balancing act between traditional and western life for so many people. But he does that with a wonderful touch, with an inspirational feeling of true admiration and affection for these people.
I read GUNSHOT ROAD on a cold Central-Western Victorian day, sat in front of an open fire. Yet I could see the heat haze. Taste the bulldust as it swirled around my feet. Hear the beautiful, haunting, glorious sound of singing to country. I could see Emily, I could sense her exasperation, feel her frustration, hear the determination. GUNSHOT ROAD made me yearn to be out there, perhaps to come across Emily and maybe cheer a bit from a safe distance. To be privileged enough to really hear language, that singing to country and to witness the intrinsic, heartfelt, deep connection to place and a way of life. GUNSHOT ROAD has left me so very very pleased that Hyland wrote a second book, hoping there is a third, and filled with the need to pack the car and head off into the place that Hyland writes so well.
NO WEATHER FOR A BURIAL - David Owen
How long should long service leave be?
Pufferfish, aka Detective Inspector Franz Heineken, scourge of Tasmania's villains, is back. And back with a seriously refreshed vengeance. Pufferfish, prickly, curmudgeonly and irony-charged as ever, is attracted to an unusual stench in his island paradise: a badly decomposed corpse with no name, identity altered prior to execution, victim of a puzzling mix of professionalism and panic.
Four Pufferfish novels were never ever going to be enough for dedicated fans of this wonderful, quirky Police Procedural from Tasmanian based author David Owen. There was always a real sense of disappointment that Owen didn't appear to have been given the opportunity to publish more of these books (or at least I believe that's what happened).
The sight of NO WEATHER FOR A BURIAL was therefore a cause of much excitement in these parts - and a mad scramble to the publishers website (you can buy your own copy direct from http://www.fortysouth.com.au). Now is it worth your while? Yes. In a word.
Pufferfish has been on long service leave, and he returns to a couple of very unusual cases in Hobart and environs. The disappearance of the wife of a well known local academic is ticking away quietly in the background, searches for her having so far proven fruitless. But attention is immediately distracted when a corpse is discovered, buried in an unusual manner, with no identification and the distinct possibility that his appearance had been recently altered. The case leads Pufferfish into the murky waters of Outlaw Motorcycle Groups, organised crime, and just a little recent Tasmanian history.
One of the things that you must like to enjoy these books is a sparse, sly, tinder-dry wit. Pufferfish is very fond of the aside, and a sort of internal monologue, mostly about himself which can be highly amusing, and is undoubtedly as dry as dry can be. NO WEATHER FOR A BURIAL takes up with the team, his colleague (and very private lover) Hedda, Walter his odious boss and just about the entire cast from the earlier books. It continues the story of Pufferfish with the lag between books nicely wrapped up in a spot of long service leave. But aside from the great characterisation of Pufferfish, there's a really good mystery to this story of the corpse. Step one - find out who he is. Step two - find out why he is in Tasmania. Step three - work out where he came from and who he knows. Step four - chase the bad guys and round them up. Simple. Unless you've got the wrong suspect locked up because your boss wants a quick resolution and step three gets a bit tricky. Oh, and there's nothing like a touch of the serendipity and more than a hefty dose of the nothing gets past him to allow Pufferfish to tidy up the missing person case on the way through!
It's like Detective Inspector Franz Heineken never ever went away. I hope he comes back again soon. We've missed him.
LET THE DEAD LIE - Malla Nunn
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA, 1953 Forced to resign from his position of Detective Sergeant and re-classified as 'mixed race' after an incident involving a young black woman, Emmanuel Cooper winds up powerless and alone in the tough coastal city of Durban, mixing labouring with surveillance work for his old boss, Major van Nickerk. Patrolling the freight yards one night, he stumbles upon the body of a young boy and the detective in him cannot, or will not, walk away. When two more bodies - this time an older English woman and her maid - are discovered at his boarding house, he unwittingly become
The second Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper book LET THE DEAD LIE has now been released, following on the from highly praised A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DIE.
LET THE DEAD LIE takes Cooper into different physical circumstances, working in a very bleak city, doing menial labour and nightly surveillance work, there's a sense of loss and depression surrounding him. This rapidly changes to desperation as he is implicated in further murders and has a limited time, and difficult circumstances in which to clear his own name.
Readers of the first of the Cooper books will be aware that this series is based within apartheid South Africa in the early 1950's. That's a very bleak, uncomfortable and disturbing location and timeframe for readers to be pushed into. It's made even more discomforting with the move to the urban setting - somehow there's a loss of a sense of some beauty, probably because there's less of the natural world. The vast majority of people that Cooper encounters in this book are down-trodden or controlled totally by their "racial situation". There are some rare exceptions to that of course, and there's certainly some signs of people making the best of an appalling situation - but sadly there are also signs of depravity and prejudice and tensions within racial groups. Somehow this makes the whole apartheid situation, and the nature of South Africa in that time darker, more depressing, more disheartening.
Cooper himself remains an interesting, challenging character. Not quite an unreliable narrator, he's certainly a flawed human being. Which is something that really appeals to this reader - central characters that engage, make you think, wince or even dislike on occasions. Especially as Cooper has a good streak - his motivations are good, perhaps his methods less clear and sometimes his own relationships are at best hamfisted or at worst manipulative. But it's that sense of manipulation that is strongest in this book - from the "State" manipulating people's rights and opportunities based on a mindlessly arbitrary classification of "race"; through people within those race groups manipulating their own situation, and those around them; to the way that the race groups do (or do not) co-operate or respect each other as well.
Where the circumstances of the setting of the book are so overwhelming, it can sometimes be that the narrative can get a little lost in the crowd. It's an interesting thing that in LET THE DEAD LIE, there is sufficient description and background to the world in which Cooper is operating to give a clear indication of what it must have been like, without losing too much impetus in the investigation. That investigation also twists and turns nicely and quite realistically giving the reader a sneaking suspicion that whilst some things are obvious, others may not be as they seem.
Undoubtedly reading these stories isn't a particularly easy or pleasant task. The world is unpalatable, the society confrontational and profoundly shocking. Cooper himself isn't a knight in shining armour. He is, however, a great survivor and let's hope this series survives with him.
THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD - Robert Wilson
The sweltering city of Seville is still recovering from a shocking and unsolved terrorist attack but now a spectacular car crash brings to light another threat. A dead gangster and a suitcase filled with millions in cash means the prospect of a serious Russian mafia presence on Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón's beat.
Jefe Javier Falcón is undoubtedly one of those slightly rumpled, thoughtful, urbane, complicated and delightful detectives that fans of crime fiction will love to spend time with. THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD is the last book in this series, beginning with THE BLIND MAN OF SEVILLE, then THE SILENT AND THE DAMNED and THE HIDDEN ASSASSINS.
In THE IGNORANCE OF THE BLOOD Seville is a swelteringly hot, tense and shocked city, following a terrorist attack which Falcón has promised will not go unsolved. Unfortunately, whilst the promise was heart-felt, the actual identification of those behind the attack is not so easy and Falcón is struggling. Meanwhile a Russian gangster is making a run for it with a lot of cash and some future plans which don't sit well with his masters.
When you sit down to read THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD you need to make sure you've got time on your hands. For a start it's unlikely you're going to want to put it down again, and for a second, you're going to have to concentrate a bit. The mix of Gangsters, Terrorists, Lovers, Children, Police Departments, Spys, Friends and Acquaintances gets very complex. Not that the plot is necessarily over-complicated, it's just that there is an awful lot going on in this book and you'll need to keep a lot of names, places, people and events straight in your mind. (Confession here - I have the book but I also listened to a fair portion of it via Audiobook which really was a fabulous experience, the names of people and places pronounced properly just added a little extra to the enjoyment of the book).
If you haven't read the earlier books you should still be able to sort out who is who and some of the backstory of the characters. There's enough detail spread throughout to give you a backwards perspective, but not so much that you feel like it's a retrospective. There is also real writing skill being exhibited here. There's a lot of personal angst and relationship difficulties delved into and explored, but at no time does the pace of the book suffer. He really does characters well but he also does settings beautifully. You can feel the heat of Seville, the smells and sights of Andalucia are so evocative. You read these books with a hankering for ripe oranges, olives, tiled floors and cool places. There's also something very chilling about the plots, they are elaborate and sinister and very discomforting.
Alongside the Falcón series, Wilson has written a number of other books which are equally excellent, but THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD, it seems, is the last of the Javier Falcón quartet. Botheration, blast and drat it all.
BLEED FOR ME - Michael Robotham
Ray Hegarty, a highly respected former detective, lies dead in his daughter Sienna's bedroom. She is found covered in his blood. Everything points to her guilt, but psychologist Joe O'Loughlin isn't convinced.
Fans of Australian writer Michael Robotham will always be waiting with baited breath for the next instalment from him. Be it a book that features (now) ex-cop Victor Ruiz, psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, Sikh detective Alisha Barba or a combination of those characters. BLEED FOR ME is another Joe O'Loughlin book, with a hefty appearance from Ruiz as well - and these two are particular favourites of this reader anyway.
If you've never read a Robotham book before it won't take you long to get up to speed with Joe's back story. A psychologist, he doesn't practice any more, now teaching instead. A sufferer of early onset Parkinsons, his physical frailty is something he struggles with on a daily basis. As he struggles with his separation from wife Julianne. A separation he is consistently unable to accept, his lose of close and regular contact with the woman he continues to love deeply is made even worse by his longing to be back living in the same house as his daughters - baby Emma and teenager on the verge Charlie. When Charlie's best friend Sienna is embroiled in the death of her father - ex-cop in his own right Ray Hegarty Joe is there from the very start. Searching for Sienna on the night that Ray is murdered; trying to help Sienna; trying to help his own daughter deal with the impact of the upheavals in her friends life; trying to restore his marriage; trying to stay in good with the police; trying to find the real killer. Joe seems to spend a lot of his life trying - and he tries the patience of a lot of people around him in the process. Calling in a favour from Ruiz, Joe and Victor seem to be the only people who don't believe Sienna killed her father, even when revelations of what has been going on in that family start to surface.
Joe's family have been through a lot in earlier books, and those circumstances, and his increasing Parkinson's symptoms seem to have made Joe more of a hero and Julianne, in particular, somewhat of a villain as their marriage has crumbled. BLEED FOR ME definitely is going someway towards explaining the relationship - the tensions and the difficulties between these two people. A lot of those difficulties play out as the pressure, this time albeit one removed from Joe's own family, acts on everybody in this book. Joe is as alternatively driven, bumbling, well meaning and blind stubborn as he's ever been; Ruiz is closed, measured and somewhat ruthless by comparison. Julianne is defensive sometimes, at other points she's open and caring and protective - and there's some explanation of why she has done what seemed so heartless in earlier books.
Along the way, the personal is balanced well against a story of human perversity and cruelty that is often profoundly confrontational. Perhaps it is that idea of confrontation that made Robotham step over one of those lines for some readers of crime fiction. Whilst I have struggled with, and sometimes been able to see and understand the reason for animal cruelty in some books - as a way of instigating some reaction / affecting a character or illustrating a character's flaws, in BLEED FOR ME it's not just that the depiction goes beyond cruelty and steps into explicit suffering, it's because I struggled from then on to find a context for it - a reason if you will. Despite the fact that I found this story of manipulation and cruelty balanced against understanding and care good, and the balancing of the relationship between Joe and his wife fairer and more balanced than before, since finishing the book I'm still confronted by that animal suffering incident. With the passage of time, the details have faded, but I'm still puzzled by the reactions (or lack thereof) of all the characters around that poor animal and increasingly discomforted by extrapolations of why it had to be so graphic. So confrontational. So unexplained, unnecessary. Certainly the last O'Loughlin book I read was the one that Robotham quipped his wife was worried might stop them from being invited to dinner parties. I hope that the bar didn't need to be raised.