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by Chris Collett
Piatkus, May 2004
327 pages
ISBN: 0749906855

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jamie Barham is autistic. His verbal communication is limited, which is bad news for DI Tom Mariner, as it looks like Jamie witnessed the murder of his older brother Edward, a Birmingham journalist.

Before I go any further, THE WORM IN THE BUD does not appear to be an attempt to cash in on the runaway success of Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. Instead, it comes across as a book by an industry professional with a particular story to tell. Chris Collett, the author, apparently teaches adults and children with learning difficulties.

At one point it looked as if the autism angle might unbalance the mystery, but Collett gets away with it. The danger of issue-based crime novels is that they can turn into a polemic where this mystery angle takes a very distant back seat. But aside from possibly a touch too much information on day centres and residential homes, Collett does a good job of combining the two disparate elements into a convincing mystery.

The plot is serviceable, if a little lacking in tension in the middle. It combines a police procedural with the human interest angle of Eddie and Jamie's high-flying sister Anna, who suddenly finds herself with the challenge of looking after the brother she barely knows who has a range of special needs. Meanwhile Mariner, a copper with the obligatory fouled-up private life, must find out who wanted Eddie dead. There are several likely candidates lurking around, including a local crimelord. I did guess whodunit, but not until right to the wire where the tension finally ratchets up several notches.

The characters could do with a little more plumping up, but my suspicion is that Collett has a sequel up her sleeve, which may see Tom and Anna fleshed out a little more. THE WORM IN THE BUD is an impressive debut with an unusual angle and a book that avoids easy answers.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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