Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes (2016)

Over the course of five novels Kate Rhodes has grown into a top-flight crime writer. I don’t read a great deal of contemporary crime, but there is something about the way she writes, the way she portrays her characters, that has me eager to read each new book as soon as it arrives in the world.

This book opens with a perfectly executed scene.

It is early morning and a woman – a doctor and a single mother – is jogging on Clapham Common with her young son in tow. It’s something that she does everyday, but this day is different. Because she is being watched, by a couple who have a particular interest in her.

Later that day her son, Mikey, is found, wandering alone. He is distressed and disorientated, and he will not say a word.

And in the evening a labelled pack of Doctor Clare Riordan’s blood is found on a doorstep in central London ….

The writing was wonderful. I knew that this was crime novel, but it could have turned this story into anything it might have wanted to become. And it quickly became clear than the story would be both distinctive and meaningful. Any concerns I had that there might be echoes of a certain real-life case were swept right away.

29058751Dr Alice Quentin is a Forensic Psychologist, and as the story opens she is beginning a new job as deputy director of Forensic Psychology Unit  of the Metropolitan Police Department. It isn’t the right time for her to take on a demanding new case, she shouldn’t be working on the same investigation as DCI Don Burns now that their relationship was ‘official’ but it was clear from the start that this was an exceptional situation, and that Alice was the best person to work with the child who had to be protected and handled with the greatest care.

She grasped the situation quickly, but she wasn’t entirely happy. Her relationship was common knowledge, and, though she knew that Don had done the right thing when he put it on record, she wished that he had asked her first.

Her work with Mikey showed Alice as a capable and compassionate professional so very well. And the child’s trauma, and his difficult progress as he struggled to cope with his situation, were sensitively and realistically captured. Every detail was right, and I was drawn in and made to care.

I understood Alice’s deep concern for Mikey, and her determination to do everything in her power to help him and to help the investigation that she hoped – maybe against hope – would restore his beloved mother to him.

Kate Rhodes was very clever to set this case against this stage in Alice’s personal life. Because seeing things together illuminated her character wonderfully well. She put a little too much emotional energy into her career, because, while she loved the idea of a more fulfilling life away from work, she had a deep-set fear of being hurt, being unable to cope ….

There is another crime, links are found with other incidents, and everything leads to a very real scandal.

In the late seventies and early eighties tainted blood products were imported into the United Kingdom and their use infected around five thousand with hepatitis C and around twelve hundred with HIV.

To date no government, health or pharmaceutical entity in the UK has admitted liability for the scandal and no compensation has been paid to those infected or affected.

I knew nothing about this history and I can only applaud Kate Rhodes – whose family was affected – for drawing attention to what happened and for incorporating it into this novel so effectively; showing the long-ranging consequences and the differing reactions of those whose lives were touched and damaged.

The plot is very well constructed; my suspicions went this way and that, and I really didn’t know quite how this story would play out until the very end. Every character was fully realised; a real living, breathing human being with a life and a history. Every story within the bigger story rang true.

And life went on for everyone in Alice’s world. Don’s first meeting with Alice’s mother was particularly well done; showing aspects of their characters that I hadn’t seen before.

This is part of a series, and I would recommend starting with the first book and reading them all, but this book could stand alone, and you could read it first and then go back.

I could quite happily read them all again.

They work as crime novels, they work as human dramas; and five times now I have picked up a book and read avidly, wanting to know how the story would play out and caring about the people involved and wanting to know what would happen in their lives.

I will be very surprised if I read a better crime novel this year.

And I do hope that there will be a sixth book.

River of Souls by Kate Rhodes (2015)

It’s lovely when an author pulls you into a world, into a story, into the lives of her characters with the very first words of a book.

“The Thames is preparing  to race back to the sea, currents twisting like sinews of muscle. Endless rain has upset its smoothness, reflected lights scattering in a blur of silver. A man stands beside it, gazing across the water’s moonlit surface, listening to the voices of the drowned ….”

‘Lovely’ is probably not the right word, given that this is a dark crime novel; let’s just say that Kate Rhodes writes very well indeed, and that I’d happily read almost any kind of novel she might chose to write.

At present she is writing ‘expert working with the police’ procedurals, and this is the fourth book in a series centred around the life and work of Alice Quentin, a forensic psychologist.

This book stands alone, and can be read without reading the three that came before; but I have to say that your understanding of the characters and relationships of Alice and the people around her would be enhanced by reading in order. I’m happy to recommend all four!

25307541Jude Shelley, the daughter of a cabinet minister, was left for dead in the Thames. She was horrifically injured and her face was destroyed. The police investigation reached a dead end,but it was re-opened when the body of an elderly priest was recovered from the river. His injuries were strikingly similar to Jude’s; he had an artefact reclaimed from the river tied to his body, as Jude had.

Jude’s mother had read Alice’s book, and she asked that she be part of the investigation. That brought Alice back to work with DCI Burns and his team again; they had a complicated history, but each had respect for the other’s professional expertise.

There would be more murders.

The story stays close to Alice, as she works with the police, as she meets and assesses key figures in the enquiry, as she researches the artefacts found with the bodies, as she interviews witnesses and those who were close to the victims.

Most strikingly, she works so sensitively with Jude, who lies in a private hospital bed, her life still very much in the balance, in the hope that understanding her relationships with her family and friends, and maybe reawakening memories of the night she was attacked, would lead her to the killer.

That gives this story such depth, and makes it moving in a way that crime novels rarely are.

I love that Alice is a capable professional, and I appreciate the complexity, and believability of her character.

All of characterisation – of the city and its people – was real and complicated and wonderful. The ongoing story – Alice’s difficult relationship with her mother, her concern for her errant brother, her warm bond with her dearest friend – held my interest, and provided an effective backdrop to the crime story. However serious the investigation may be, life goes on.

The portrayal and the psychology of Jude’s family, shaken to the core by what had happened, was particularly intriguing. Alice believed that they were keeping secrets, and that those secrets held part – if not all – of the solution to the case.

The story was compelling, and though I thought I had the solution quite early in the story I discovered that I was wrong. The plotting was very clever; the quality of the plot, the characterisation, and the writing held me from start to finish.

My only disappointment was that the building blocks of the ‘expert working with the police’ procedural were a little too obvious; the lining up of suspects, the shifts to the killer’s perspective, the escalation of events, the dramatic final act, …. I was a little sorry that this was so clearly a certain type of book.

Kate Rhodes does it all very well, but I’d love to see her stretch – or even break – the boundaries. And I think she’s too good a writer not to.

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