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.
Dr 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.