Teenager Giverny Hart was brutally raped and the trial of her attackers, several brothers from the Harbourn family, was recently declared a mistrial so she must go through the whole, excruciating exercise again. On the morning Giverny is to give evidence in the second trial, forensic physician Anya Crichton and counsellor Mary Singer arrive at her house for moral support and to escort her to Court only to find her near death from hanging. Frantic attempts fail to save Giverny’s life and to compound matters these attempts appear to have obliterated crucial evidence of whether she was murdered or committed suicide. Having been the one who tried to save Giverny, Anya feels even more guilty about this when two sisters are raped on the night the Harbourn brothers are released from remand and evidence soon points to at least some of them being responsible for this horrific new crime.
Blood Born is a very solidly plotted forensic thriller which more than holds its own against its well-known competition from the likes of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs. Fox is a doctor with a special interest in forensic medicine and it shows both in the scope in the detail provided here. The forensic details of injuries perpetrated upon the various victims is fairly gruesome at several points, though it never felt gratuitous or particularly sensationalist. Nor did the ‘ick factor’ detract from the intertwining stories which I found very compelling and far more believable than many in this genre. There are no rampaging serial killers here, just ‘ordinary’ suburban evil that, unhappily, is far easier to imagine than Hannibal Lecter types.
Despite enjoying the story I was left a little disappointed by the book. Fox tackles some weighty issues here such as the systematic failure of the legal system to achieve anything approaching justice for several victims, including Giverny, the two subsequent rape victims and all of their families. I wished we’d spent time delving into it more thoroughly. Another topic tantalisingly glimpsed was the age-old issue of whether it is upbringing or genetic code that determines one’s behaviour and, again, I would happily have spent more time exploring this issue.
Heaven knows there are plenty of similar thrillers that never bother to do anything more than pile up the body count so I should be (and am) grateful that the book bothered to explore other issues at all but I can’t help feeling let down that this was done a little too superficially for my tastes. It’s probably not that helpful but I am reminded of Susan Hill’s The Pure in Heart which I thought managed to achieve a more satisfying balance between straight-forward storytelling and the exploration of broader social issues.
My other quibble with the book is that I’m not particularly enamoured of Anya Chrichton as a protagonist. Mostly this is because I think she’s a bit too good to be true in her unwavering selflessness and devotion to womankind (my 15-year old niece would soon be making gagging motions if she encountered Anya). But in Blood Born she also displays a rather astonishing willingness to believe the worst of people who she claims as friends, particularly lawyer Dan Brody who on two occasions she assumes to be behaving immorally without really discussing either situation with him.
Though set in Sydney I did not discern a single element that identified it as a particularly Australian story which is, I suspect, a deliberate decision of the author’s because I’m told such things make a difference when trying to sell international publishing rights, particularly for the US market.
Blood Born tells a story that is grim but also credible and engaging and does so in such a way that it’s quite difficult to put down (my copy has pasta sauce stains on it because I tried, semi-successfully, to read and stir concurrently). I do applaud Fox for attempting to do more than merely tell a tale though I would have preferred the book to tackle one ‘big’ issue in more depth. However, the writing is first-rate and, having read all of Fox’s published fiction to date, I’ll be lining up for the next one.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5 (though I genuinely did oscillate between 3.5 and 4; on a less disgruntled day I might have leaned the other way)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan ; ISBN: 9781405039314; Length 327 pages; Setting: Australia, present-day
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Blood Born has been reviewed at Mysteries in Paradise and The Book Bag
Here at Reactions to Reading I read and reviewed Fox’s Skin and Bone in February last year. It features one of the minor characters in Blood Born but the two can be read independently. I read Fox’s earlier two books in my pre-blogging days.
Bernadette – Thanks for this review – an excellent job! You’re so right, I think, about the balance between telling a good story and being open to exploring larger issues in a book. That’s not an easy balance to achieve, but I do like it when authors can do so.
Interesting review, thanks. I read her first novel and like you was not too impressed by Anya – or indeed, the plot which I recollect fairly dimly now, but which at the time seemed to have several obvious flaws. I think I have another of hers on my shelf so must read it – but for me, the jury is still out as to whether the author is derivative or an original. Your review does not persuade me to think the latter….
Maxine I think you’re probably right, there’s not much that’s original about the premise or the broad plot details. I think it’s better than the latest Cornwell/Reichs/Slaughter but that’s not saying much (I hated the last book I read by all three of those) and it also doesn’t mean it’s terribly original. I struggle to review this kind of thing these days too because I think I’m ‘done’ with this sub-genre and so I worry that I’m being unfair. I’ve tried to weed out as many as possible from the TBR pile but I like to fly the Aussie flag where I can 🙂
I agree Bernadette, I would be much more inclined to read a book from this subgenre if it comes from Australia rather than the USA (where such a lot of it gets published that the bar is quite low) or the UK. For me, an Australian book is intrinsically interesting as it describes a different culture to that enjoyed by us repressed and cloudy Brits.
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