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by Belinda Bauer
Bantam, January 2013
320 pages
14.99 GBP
ISBN: 0593066928

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Patrick Fort is eighteen years old and doesn't see the world quite in the same way as others, something that his mother has never really come to terms with. His father died in a road traffic accident, knocked over as he was crossing the road outside a bookmakers, watched by Patrick as a young boy. Since then, Patrick has been fascinated by the question of death, trying to understand that moment of transition from life to death, seeking to understand its secrets. If he can only understand something, Patrick is happy. It's things that he doesn't understand that make him unhappy.

As part of his obsession with death, Patrick goes to university to study anatomy and lives away from home for the first time, sharing a house with other students. His mother worries about how he will cope, but is also relieved that she no longer has to endure his oddities, such as always eating the food on his plate in alphabetical order, bringing home dead animals, writing incomprehensible lists of names in a notebook and keeping old sepia photographs of dead children.

Interspersed with Patrick's story is that of a patient on the coma ward of the hospital, a man trapped inside his own body, unable to communicate, but still aware of what is happening around him. In consequence, he is the only person who knows that a murder has taken place on the ward, a murder in a place where no one would expect such a thing and where death is seen as a welcome release.

In the university dissecting rooms, Patrick is introduced to a dead body known simply as Number 19, a man who died aged forty-seven. It is the job of the anatomy students who will become intimately acquainted with his cadaver to discover how he died. When Patrick discovers something about Number 19 that is out of place, he's disturbed, as above all, Patrick likes things to make sense. Unable to confide in anyone, least of all the police, Patrick makes his own investigations, and soon his life becomes extremely complicated in ways that he's ill-equipped to handle.

In RUBBERNECKER, Belinda Bauer has departed from her grim series of books set on Exmoor for what appears to be a one-off story, less dark in tone, despite the anatomical descriptions of the work being done by the students on the cadaver. Patrick is engaging in spite of or more probably, because of his difficulties. He's an easy character to care about, although Bauer stops short of overt emotional manipulation in his depiction. The interwoven story of the slowly emerging coma patient carries all the spine-tingling chill that will be familiar to readers of her earlier books. I was wholly engrossed in Patrick's investigations and found myself desperately hoping for a happy ending for him, something that cannot in any way be relied on from an author who habitually depicts the dark side of life with enviable flair.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, January 2013

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