Good Reading : July 2001
fatalefiction Lester’s murder, the murder of his lover and of the woman making a documentary about him are solved by Hart’s regular amateur investigator, restaurant-owner Jane Lawless. (At the moment, if your sleuth isn’t a forensic pathologist, he or she is probably a restaurant owner or chef; it’s sometimes impossible to tell just who the detective is in today’s crime fiction without consulting a menu.) a dead body in the library She – like Marianne Macdonald’s single-mother sleuth, who rejoices in the name Dido Hoare – is a character in a series, and it’s difficult to believe in these non- professionals who, Jessica Fletcher-like, have been stumbling over dead bodies and outsmarting killers in book after book. That said, the new Dido Hoare mystery is worth reading if you want to see just how chilling and effective a seemingly conventional detective novel aimed at female audience can be. Superficially, at least, Blood Lies (Hodder Headline $24.95) conforms to the blueprint for that despised sub-genre of women’s crime fiction, the ‘cozy’. Dido is an antiquarian book dealer who lives over her flat in North London with her ginger cat Mr Spock and her baby Ben. She’s asked by her best friend to visit her in the country, but soon finds out that the pretty little village of Alford is not at all as it seems. Dead animals are left on the doorstep. Then the nice dog that sprawls all day in the middle of the road sniffs out the skeletal remains of a missing girl. Dido solves the mystery and then hightails it back to the safety and security of London as soon as she can. 14 Could Marianne Macdonald have written this book to confound all those critics who are disdainful of crime fiction set anywhere other than in the grittiest and grimmest urban environment? As she slyly demonstrates, murders are more disquieting when they take place somewhere that doesn’t seem at all dangerous. But then that is what Agatha Christie did all those years ago. Macdonald obviously knows this and she pays homage to her predecessor’s craft when she has Dido Hoare also investigate here a classic Christie crime: a dead body in the library. Unlike other local women crime fiction writers, such as Marelle Day, Jean Bedford and Kerry Greenwood, Gabrielle Lord hasn’t created a private investigator series character. Her books are stand-alone works featuring pressing social issues of the moment. In Death Delights (Hodder Headline $29.95), it’s that exceedingly over-familiar topic and personal favourite of American chat shows, paedophilia, a theme of Lord’s previous novel Whipping Boy. Lord rings a change, though, on this fashionable social malaise by making the paedophiles the victims in her story. Someone is killing, by emasculation, Sydney’s convicted child molesters shortly after they have served their prison terms. Forensic scientist Jack McCain is investigating these grisly crimes while at the same time desperately trying to find his teenage daughter, who has run away from home to the world of drugs and prostitution in King’s Cross. Many years ago, he lost his young sister when, at around the same age as his daughter, she disappeared, presumed kidnapped and murdered, from outside his family home. His sister was never heard of again, and McCain is terrified that this will be his daughter’s fate. Lord mounts a convincing case for the psychological theory that problems in one generation of a family will manifest themselves in the next. Jack McCain’s childhood situation was textbook-case-history- dysfunctional, causing problems for him, his brother and his poor, doomed sister. The pattern of behaviour set up in the family which raised Jack is repeated by him and another teenage girl, his daughter, is lost. There are a number of things to prase in Death Then there’s the bit where Jack thinks that someone sinister is watching him in the children’s playground near his house, but all he finds when he goes to check it out is an swing creaking back and forth with nobody on it, just like a scene in a movie. The problem is that too the killer keeps his fleshy trophies in the fridge of a wonderfully scary old, dark house in Annandale many scenes in Death Delights may remind you of some movie or tele-feature. There is something thin, inert and script-like about it, and perhaps the story will carry its proper punch only when adapted for the screen. Delights. Lord has obviously researched the world of forensic medicine thoroughly and there are more than enough details about what do with what’s on the slab in the lab to satisfy all those fans of Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell. She’s a good hand at writing about nasty things: the killer keeps his fleshy trophies in the fridge of a wonderfully scary old, dark house in Annandale, and when Jack discovers them, it’s a moment worthy of Thomas Harris.