Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Frantic" by Katherine Howell

Sophie Phillips is a paramedic whose world is thrown into turmoil after her husband Chris is shot in the head and her infant son Lachlan kidnapped. Found at the crime scene is a note instructing someone to keep their mouth shut. Luckily, Chris survives the attack.

Detectives Ella Marconi and Dennis Orchard think that Chris might be the one who made an anonymous tip to the media over corrupt police officers being behind a series of violent bank robberies, and that the kidnapping and warning are related to this.

Despite the note, dim bulb Sophie believes the shooting and kidnapping are related to her. She thinks it is the work of Boyd Sawyer, who blames her for the death of his wife and newborn baby, as her paramedic skills were unable to save them. Sophie also pretends to be a police officer and goes door to door, checking out any occupants with an infant. She is soon relying on help from Chris' partner Angus Arendson, a man she had a one night stand with. Her desperation to find Lachlan takes her down a path of dark moral ambiguity.

How long should a novel take to set up its story? Or at the very least draw you into the story? I can tolerate about 30 to 50 pages of exposition before I begin to get slightly annoyed. "Frantic" takes over 90 pages to get to its precipitating event of Chris being shot and Lachlan kidnapped. I know this is a precipitating event as both the book's tagline and blurb refer to it. Why is it taking me 90 pages to get to it? It's fine to spend time detailing how Boyd Sawyer lost his wife and child, as it features heavily later (if only to set up the requisite red herring), but Katherine Howell - who used to be a paramedic herself - seems to want to demonstrate she knows her stuff.

All well and good, but I started getting bored. I was waiting for Chris to get shot and Lachlan kidnapped. The events that were supposed to kickstart the novel. Instead, I was getting a lot of filler about paramedics.

Next we have Sophie hysterically accusing every parent she comes across of stealing her baby. She goes from door to door, checking to see if the occupants have an infant. I understand that the author wanted to show that Sophie was desperate and frantic, and didn't want to sit around on her ass, but it was a bad way of doing it. Firstly, is a crime novel really going to resolve itself by having the heroine miraculously stumble across her stolen baby at a random house with random characters? Would any crime novel reader really want a book to end in such an anti-climactic manner? Her wild door-knock appeal only made her look foolish.

No. The trick here would have been to de-emphasize Ella Marconi's presence and find a way for Sophie to uncover vital clues on her own. Hell, even Ella admits that the case is only solved because she and Dennis happen to stumble across Sophie and Chris after they have figured it out for themselves. It would have made Sophie appear smarter and possibly upped the tension, with Sophie getting in over her head.

Don't even get me started on the actions taken by Sophie later on in the novel. Actually, I don't have to, as that would spoil the novel. Suffice to say, it makes her look even more stupid.

Her husband Chris is a petulant pain in the ass. He behaves like a four-year-old child at every opportunity. He blames everybody else for his depression without even attempting to explain to anybody why he is depressed. He had a real "me me me" attitude that was utterly infuriating. A conversation late in the novel where he blames his mother for driving his father away when he was four years old really sealed the deal. He's been hanging on to that since he was four? Time to get over it, pal.

Basically, I severely disliked Sophie and Chris. I felt they deserved what happened to them and that they deserved each other. I felt sorry for Lachlan, since he'd be raised by two self-absorbed morons for parents. He was probably better off in the hands of his kidnappers. Yes, it's a horrible thing to say, but I'm hoping we live in a world where children like Lachlan are removed from the likes of Chris and Sophie by Child Protections Services.

I usually like to read more than one book by an author, just to be fair, so I had a look at Fantastic Fiction (a great website, which can be found at to get a brief plot description of Howell's subsequent books. They all feature Ella Marconi (she was a little dull, but not unlikeable), but they also all feature a female paramedic as the secondary character. EVERY ONE OF THEM. That prospect was a little more than I could bear, so unless I find a cheap second-hand copy, or a library copy, of the other titles, I'll be sitting future entries out.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul,
    sorry you didn't enjoy the book, but thanks for taking the time to read and review it.
    Best wishes,
    Katherine Howell.