Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Precious Blood" by Jonathan Hayes

Dr. Edward Jenner is a forensic pathologist called upon to act as a private consultant by the father of a murder victim. She had been found nailed upside-down to the wall in her flat. Although he's not a part of the medical examiner's office (having retired after post-traumatic stress disorder related to recovering bodies from 9/11), the detectives investigating the case are happy to have him around. After checking with other departments for similar crimes, Jenner comes across a crime scene in which the decapitated victim's head was placed in some spilled milk. Examining both bodies reveals that a weird script has been etched on the backs of their necks, indicating a serial killer at work.

On top of this, the roommate - and witness - to the most recent murder has been advised by her uncle to take refuge with Jenner, since said uncle lives in the same building and trusts him. This roommate, Ana de Jong, is quite traumatised by her experience (she narrowly avoided also being killed), which leads to feelings developing between her and Jenner, despite her being nearly half his age. Further investigation finds a link between the deaths and the dates in which martyrs were killed. Jenner and the police must use this information to possibly predict the next potential victim and the day that they will die, all while facing the possibility that Ana is still a target.

"Precious Blood" is a standard serial killer thriller, maybe just a touch above average. Hayes thankfully manages to display his research and knowledge without getting too dry, technical or boring. And the police investigation angle is also well-handled - even if one of the clues they track down is a dead end, it usually leads to a new direction in the story. The pacing is tight, and the finale has some solid suspenseful moments. So why am I not urging crime fans to rush and hunt this one down?

Basically because of the character of Ana de Jong. She is an absolute pain in the ass. She spends pretty much the whole book on a "poor-me" crying jag. She doesn't display one iota of wit, strength or crackling personality. Sure, perhaps her behaviour is a realistic portrayal of a twenty-one-year old university student after witnessing a murder and only just escaping with her life, but it sure gets tiresome with her constant juvenile attitude and bouts of sobbing. Jenner's attraction to her - and bedding of - can only be described as some sort of middle-aged male wish-fulfillment, as I doubt many guys would put up with such high-maintenance. As for Jenner himself, he makes for a very bland protagonist, and his sudden transformation into superhero during the climax is not very believable, especially considering he had broken ribs. But he is at least smart, which is what keeps the plot moving.

So, while this does deliver as a serial killer thriller, the unappealing main characters and their unrealistic relationship does rob if of some suspense and credibility. I'll happily revisit this author again, so long as Ana de Jong is nowhere to be found.

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