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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Review : Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

Title : Skin and Bone

Author : Kathryn Fox
Date Published : 2007
ISBN-13 : 9781405038225
Sub-Genre : Police Procedural / Thriller


Similar to Michael Robotham's practise of taking minor characters from his previous books and featuring them as protagonists in the next, Kathryn Fox has promoted Detective Sergeant Kate Farrer from bit player in the Anya Crichton books (Malicious Intent, Without Consent) to lead in Skin and Bone. In so doing she has moved the focus away from the forensic pathology side of criminalistics and moved to the coal-face of the homicide detective office in a police procedural story that twists behind a series of cunning facades.

The pressure is on Detective Kate Farrer right from the first page of Skin and Bone. She has just returned to work after recovering from a hellish ordeal a few months earlier and is determined to carry on with her usual high quality efficiency. Our first impression of her, though, is that she is far from rehabilitated and is still hampered by side-effects from being held captive, battling panic attacks and claustrophobia. She also has to go through the added aggravation of breaking in a new partner. Then there's the rampant chauvinism thrust at her by some of her fellow detectives.

The story opens at the scene of a suspected arson that is complicated by one victim found in the ashes, making it a possible murder investigation. The victim appears to be female and the presence of a nappy bag in the house suggests that the dead woman has also recently had a baby but there are no remains found in the wreckage, meaning that there is also a missing child to worry about. Her new partner is DC Oliver Parke, a young and enthusiastic family man with whom Kate is particularly aloof, allowing herself to be irritated by his attempts to win her favour.

Before Farrer and Parke can get started on the complicated arson/murder/missing investigation they are handed a second case to look into. To Kate's great annoyance the new case is a missing person case that has been given a high priority because the woman who has gone missing is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who is in turn a friend of the police commissioner. It's a case that looks like it will lead nowhere and can only waste time that would be more valuably spent on their original case.

The missing woman is Candice Penfold and when they begin their investigation they learn that she had been involved with a man named Mark Dobbie. Dobbie had been pursuing her sister and, when he was soundly rebuffed, turned his attention to Candice. His police record flags him as a definite avenue though which they can travel and what they find is a repulsive piece of work who believes is God's gift to women. He is a man who obsessively works out and who uses women in the most abhorrent ways. The man is obviously a piece of trash and he has committed more than his fair share of crimes in the past, some of which are unearthed by Kate and Oliver...but the question of whether he is involved in Candice's disappearance remains unclear.
Just as all the pieces appear to be falling into place in a complicated investigation, a series of seemingly unrelated incidents tumble in on each other. The results of which mean that Kate 1) loses her prime suspect, 2) finds herself in danger of losing her job , and 3) comes within a whisker of losing her life.

Skin and Bone is anything but straightforward. Not only are there a multitude of complexities laid into the parallel investigations, but there is a rich development in the relationship between Kate and Oliver providing it's own fascination. A further dimension of intrigue is injected into the story by the inclusion of a side-story that will sound familiar to many Australians Australian readers will also recognise a particular side-story that sounds similar to a recent high profile trial in Sydney.

As a police procedural, the story builds gradually in momentum as leads are chased down, suspects are interviewed and dismissed and forensic evidence is examined. But that's not to say that the story wanders in any way. In fact, with two key investigations to take care of, there is a feeling that progress is constantly being made.

On the whole I found Skin and Bone to be an extremely entertaining novel. However, there are a couple of problem areas that had me scratching my head. The first comes when Kate Farrer suddenly decides to interview the friend of her prime suspect, which wouldn't normally seem so unusual, except she decided to pop over to his house at 5 in the morning. It was a totally implausible scenario and comes across as a clumsy attempt to set up a thrilling scene.

My only other problem is that the plot is overly dependent on coincidence. As a reader you kind of guess that when a protagonist works on two cases at the same time there's more than a reasonable chance that they will somehow be related to each other, but in this case, the piece just seem to snick together too neatly for my liking.

Skin and Bone is a solid murder thriller that is strong in character development. The issue of the mistreatment of women by men is a strong theme throughout the book, not just of the murder victims but also the treatment that Kate herself has to endure. Kate Farrer proves to be a fiercely independent woman who starts out as a fairly unlikable protagonist but who grows and develops greatly as the story progresses. One feels there is more to learn about the Sydney homicide detective.
You can find out more about Kathryn Fox including the UK release date for Skin and Bone by visiting her website.

1 comment:

Peter said...

"In so doing she has moved the focus away from the forensic pathology side of criminalistics and moved to the coal-face of the homicide detective office in a police procedural story that twists behind a series of cunning facades."

That comment makes me want to read both this book as well as the earlier ones to see how the author puts this change into effect. If she does it well, this seems like a fine way to enhance the illusion that the reader is in a real world.
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