MALICIOUS INTENT by Kathryn Fox

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I met Kathryn Fox at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate earlier this year.  I spoke to her while she signed my copy of Malicious Intent after a panel event she had participated in.  In that panel, she acted out a mock autopsy on a petrified looking Gromit with a beaming smile and an Australian accent I was proud of.  Not many Australian authors make it to the Festival in England, so it was great to see Kathryn there.

I must admit though, I had only briefly heard about her work and had not read any of her books.  So I rectified that quickly by purchasing a copy of her debut novel, which now has a very encouraging and funny comment from Ms Fox on the title page.

Comments on forums and the cover of the paperback version of Malicious Intent compares Kathryn Fox to Patricia Cornwell - high praise indeed.  However, these comparisons filled me with dread.  I read a Cornwell book once (Hornet's Nest) and hated it.  That experience and words from disheartened fans about a supposed decline in quality put me off reading another.  Putting Fox alongside Cornwell filled me with trepidation; unwarranted as it turned out.

Malicious Intent is an engaging and entertaining thriller and I enjoyed it immensely.  Fox's prose is intricate and detailed but easy to read and the plot moves along at a break neck pace.  Dr Anya Crichton's informal investigation into the alleged suicides of a series of women from various backgrounds, linked by the existence of unidentified fibres in their lungs, follows an intriguing course that had me hooked from the first page.

The main character, Dr Anya Crichton, is an intelligent professional, a freelance pathologist and forensic physician who knows her stuff.  But most of her relationships throughout the book, although based in her professional life, reflect her more personal side, whether it is with her friend, Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer; the lawyer she occasionally works for, Dan Brody; or the potential new bloke on the scene, barrister Vaughan Hunter.  In particular, her strained relationship with her ex-husband Martin and the fight for more time with her son highlights the personal battles that affect her every day.  A very well rounded character.

Fox also touches on some tricky subjects in her novel, in particular the alleged honour killing perpetrated by a Lebanese father.  She handles it well, not holding back on the reality of the situation but only using this tragic cultural difference in the context of the story – this deft touch is a skill she uses throughout.  One particular scene, showcasing Fox's ability to be tactful without holding back on the details, concerns the forensic examination of a woman who has recently been raped.  The description of the examination was handled with the same care as Anya displays with the victim herself and the scene reveals a process that I knew nothing about.  It is the one scene that stands out in my memory of the book more than any other – very well written.

Malicious Intent is a cracking good read.  The originality of the storyline falters a little with the inevitable thriller type ending, but this doesn't detract from an enthralling read.  Comparisons to Cornwell are justified and in my opinion, Kathryn Fox is much better.  Like Gromit, as he cuddled up to Ms Fox, post mock autopsy, during her panel at Harrogate, the forensic examiner thriller is in a new pair of safe hands.

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