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by Kathryn Fox
Hodder and Stoughton, November 2005
445 pages
ISBN: 0340895845

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

No prizes for guessing the day job of newcomer to crime fiction writing, Kathryn Fox. A Sydney general practitioner and medical journalist who is interested in forensic pathology, she has created Anya Crichton, a sympathetic protagonist in forensic pathologist.

The prologue to the tale is terrifying: Clare is running late for dinner and rain sodden. She is harried by a group of thugs on an otherwise deserted suburban railway station so doesn't need much inducement to take a well-dressed, well-spoken man into her vandalised but driveable car when his car has been rendered undriveable by vandals.

Chapter One introduces the reader to Anya. Her credentials, qualifications and character are established in a courtroom setting. In the same chapter, her friendships and family are likewise established. Anya is the non-custodial parent of a three-year-old son. She has set up in private practice in order to attempt to win custody of her child, Ben, from her feckless, unemployed husband.

Anya's family background is unhappy -- when she was a child, her toddler sister was abducted, never to be found, when Anya was supposed to be holding her hand. She has always felt somehow responsible for the kidnap and her parents' subsequent break-up.

Now the pathologist is being intimidated by various private clients, one a Pakistani youth who is determined she remove the perceived dishonour to his family when his young sister was found, an apparent suicide victim, after being absent from home for a time.

Then the bodies of other women are found with several things in common: they have been missing for some time before being discovered, their bodies have had the pubic area shaved and all are infected with a virulent, drug-resistant form of genital herpes. Anya perceives a link which she and her friend, Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer attempt to follow.

Like Don Marquis' archy the cockroach, medicos tend to see life from the underside. Anya is plunged into horrors resulting from the psychological and religious manias of all walks of life. She must attempt to preserve her ethics while at the same time doing her best for patients and clients yet respect their rights and wishes, no matter how seemingly irrational.

The characterisation of this likable protagonist is well done. The plotting of the novel is excellent. The medical background is impeccable and the story believable. My one criticism is the detail. It is certainly necessary to provide a degree of fact but not to the extent provided here. I have a background in the medical/health area but sometimes found my eyes glazing. I would imagine lay readers might at times be lost -- a great pity. Succinct summaries could replace a lot of the particulars without an iota of excitement or action suffering.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, April 2005

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