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.