The fifth Dr Anya Crichton book from Kathryn Fox, DEATH MASK combines Anya's forensic physician role with an exploration of professional sport and sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is too mild a description really - this book explores the very murky world of mob-behaviour, gang rape, drug abuse, violence and professional sport. Set mostly in America, the behaviour is something that Australian's are also more than aware of, the poor behaviour of many professional sports people hitting the headlines here with distressing regularity.
Nobody is going to be all that surprised to find out that whilst I have all the books in this series, I'm behind in reading them. I was, therefore, interested to see how this book would work for somebody who isn't as up to date with Anya as avid followers of the books. It did work, there's enough of the back story to not have a new reader feeling lost, but I doubt there's too much for those seasoned series followers. The book takes place mostly in America, but the world of professional sports seems somehow universal. Whilst there is some sprinkling of a sense of place, the book doesn't rely on this as a central theme. What it does concentrate on is Anya's physician role. Firstly as a counsellor within the difficult area of sexual crime and investigation, then as she is called in as a consultant expert in New York to address professional football players about the difference between right and wrong sexual behaviour.
It seemed to me that this is a worthwhile, and somewhat overdue subject area for crime fiction to tackle, hopefully providing some insight into the whys and wherefores of these men's pack behaviour. The incidence of misbehaving sportsmen is an ongoing scandal, and the issues around it - both from the victim's point of view, as well as the perpetrator's are covered in DEATH MASK. There are moments where I did feel that the book slipped a little too much into lecture mode, something that probably only affects somebody as tutorial adverse as me. But that tone and the fact that it takes a while for the main plot points to settle into position, did mean that it was a little difficult to stay with the early part of the book. Once the plot got moving, and we got into more of the "show don't tell" phase of the book, things definitely improved, and I was surprised to find that even a hefty dose of romantic tension between the two main characters didn't annoy quite as much as it normally would.
Ultimately the use of crime fiction to look hard at the ills of society is well served in DEATH MASK. The nature of those in privileged positions indulging in sexual misconduct, seemingly untouched by personal responsibility, or understanding of the sheer brutality of their conduct, is something that deserves a lot more light being shone into some particularly dark corners of the human condition.