Written by Zoë Sharp — You may be familiar with irrepressible bodyguard and investigator Charlie Fox, who brought a new level of independence, grit and determination to female detectives everywhere. Author Zoë Sharp has dedicated 10 books and a novella to Fox’s adventures so far. However with The Blood Whisperer she is introducing a new strong female character in the form of forensics expert Kelly Jacks.
Unlike Charlie, Kelly has no military, fitness or bodyguard experience. All her training comes from the school of hard knocks. As the book opens, she is working as a specialist crime scene cleaner, but she used to do much more. Six years ago she was a forensic pathologist, one of the best, who had an uncanny ability to ‘sense’ events from the physical details left behind at each crime scene – hence the rather catchy title of the novel. Her colleagues and the wider public turned on her however, when she suffered a blackout episode and woke up next to a corpse. She was imprisoned for manslaughter, but can’t remember anything about the killing.
Back in the present-day, Kelly and her young partner Tyrone are called in to clean up the scene following an apparent suicide. The wife of a rich businessman seems to have killed herself. Kelly feels that something is not quite right about the crime scene. When her boss gets beaten up with a warning to stay away from the case, Kelly and Tyrone set about finding out who was responsible.
Kelly’s past comes to haunt her when the criminals find out about her conviction and set her up for the murder of her young protege, in an almost exact replica of the earlier incident. This time, however, Kelly knows she is not to blame and she is ready to fight back. With survival skills honed in prison and a profound distrust of police she goes on the run, determined to prove her innocence and find the real killers. Can she trust Matt Lytton, the businessman whose wife was murdered? Is he really as eager as she is to find out about how his wife died, or is he just keeping Kelly under close supervision?
With both the police and gangsters out to get her, she goes on a madcap chase across London and down the M4. She has to use all her ingenuity to outwit her followers, but I like the fact that the author does not show us an idealised super-heroine. Kelly’s abrasive personality doesn’t do her any favours, but there are insights into her life in prison which help to explain the hardened shell she presents to the outside world. There are touches of vulnerability to this interesting, nuanced heroine; moments when she is forced to act against her better nature, to the extent where she feels guilty about her strong-arm tactics. It also becomes obvious just how alone she is, how difficult it is for her to trust anybody, as friends old and new seem ready to betray her.
I have read a number of debut thrillers lately where the central character is rushing from one tense situation to the next, but where the action felt too linear, insufficiently complex. This book is a true lesson in style for them and we can relax, knowing we are in the hands of a very experienced storyteller. Although the rapid switches in points of view are slightly irritating in the beginning, by the end of the book you realise they add depth and incredible suspense to a story that is equally strong in plotting and characterisation. Buckle up for an exciting ride!
CFL Rating: 5 Stars