Title: Skin and bone
Author: Kathryn Fox
Publisher: MacMillan 
Kate Farrer has been on extended leave from the NSW Police Force after she was kidnapped and tortured in the line of duty. She’s asked to return from leave early and partner a new Homicide detective, Oliver Parke, when an unidentified body is found in a house that was set on fire. Just as the investigation of this case is getting underway the two are transferred to a high profile missing person enquiry and there are also rumblings of an internal investigation into one or all of the team members.
More of a police procedural than Fox’s previous two books Skin and Bone has lots of plot threads on the go concurrently. It reminded me of a Jack Frost book with several cases being juggled by the investigators and the reader never being sure which elements of which story will turn out to be important. When done well, as is the case here, this makes for very entertaining reading because it maintains your attention for the duration and is probably more reflective of reality than one where the detective can concentrate on a single case.
Another sign of above-average writing is that the forensic elements of the investigations are well integrated into the story rather than the long-winded ‘look at all the research I did’ passages that fill lesser novels. Fire is in the news in a big way in Australia at present and so it was a bit difficult to read the more gruesome details about what happens to a body during a fire but it’s not Fox’s fault I happened to pick up this book just now. Importantly, at no time did I feel that the details which were included were put there for any ghoulish purpose.
Most of the people on the investigative team are well fleshed out even if some are wholly un-likable. The interplay between the two main characters was particularly good. I’m bored by unresolved sexual tension being the driving force behind such relationships (frankly it always feels like the easy way out for writers) and I found it refreshing to the relationship grow and change without that element. And while I don’t have to like my characters to appreciate the craft that goes into creating them it certainly doesn’t hurt. Both Kate and Oliver appealed to me greatly; having enough foibles to be interesting but not so many as to be unbelievable. Kate’s progress as she dealt with the psychological issues of having been abducted was very credible. I hadn’t thought about it much before but there are many fictional coppers who I’d be wary of in the real world whereas I found myself thinking we could do a lot worse than a police force full of Kates and Olivers.
I would thoroughly recommend this fast-paced, entertaining and ultimately satisfying novel.
My rating 4/5
Reviewed on the Australian Crime Fiction Database
Reviewed on Aust Crime Fiction
Kathryn Fox’s previous two books feature forensic pathologist Anya Crichton are Malicious Intent and Without Consent
I hope this character reappears in another book. (I slipped a review of it onto Euro Crime 🙂 – http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/Skin_and_Bone.html)
It is interesting how much the detectives and their inter-relationship mean to the readers. Bad writers should listen and learn how important realistic character sketches are.
I can also imagine that fire is too close to home right now. Several years ago I was reading a crime story about a missing person when something similar happened in my own teacher´s world. I still cannot pick up the book without remembering how horrible it all was (it ended happily of course, if not I wouldn´t have mentioned it).