Blood Born by Kathryn Fox

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Blood Born by Kathryn Fox

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Fiona Thompson
Reviewed by Fiona Thompson
Summary: Slick crime fiction from an author hot on the heels of Cornwell and Reichs.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0340933091

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To give support to a vulnerable gang-rape victim, forensic pathologist Anya Crichton offers to drive Giverny Hart to the courthouse on the day she is due to testify against the notorious Harbourn brothers. But when Anya arrives at the house she finds Giverny close to death and faces a battle against time to save her. In the panic, Anya fails to take note of an important clue which might help tell whether it really was suicide or a cleverly staged murder. Worse still, in trying to save the girl's life, Anya has interfered with a crime scene and the case falls apart. She blames herself for the Harbourn brothers being allowed to walk free and only hours later there is news of another attack. A pair of sisters have been stabbed and raped resulting in the death of one, while the other clings to life.

Evidence found at the crime scene links the Harbourn family with the attacks but it's not enough to identify exactly who was there, only the bloodline – any or all of the brothers could have been there but the close knit family has a reputation for protecting each other no matter the consequences. The case looks impossible until, late one night, Anya receives a call from a young woman she'd treated in the past at a sexual assault clinic; it might just be possible that someone is willing to speak out against the family.

Blood Born is the fourth novel from Australian author Kathryn Fox to feature Anya Crichton and the third one I've read. In spite of an uninspiring start, Fox seems to have tamed the tendency to over-develop her recurring characters and Blood Born could certainly stand proudly alone in what is a crowded market. Like many of her fellow crime fiction authors, Fox speaks with authority, having come from a career as a forensic pathologist herself. When she writes she does so with conviction and experience but what is especially admirable is that she doesn't assume her readers have as much knowledge as she; on the other hand she doesn't condescend to explain everything in miniscule detail either.

Technically the plot is tight with no loose ends or unnecessary padding; in fact, what I thought was an interesting, but ultimately needless, sub-plot was skilfully woven into the main story towards the end. The plot is quite narrow but because the action takes place over a short time frame the pace is electrifying and those pages turn almost on their own. Not for the faint-hearted, the accounts of the victims' injuries are graphic and unsettling.

Are some people born with a genetic predisposition to be violent or to commit crimes; it certainly seems to run in the Harbourn family, but is that down to nurture or nature? The Harbourn children watched their long-suffering mother kill their father and all of them touched the knife to make sure it was impossible to blame one person, but would that be enough to make all of them brutal rapists incapable of empathy? I thought this idea was explored as much as it could be in a short novel but it's a question that can't be answered in two hundred and odd pages.

Another subject which is touched upon is the legal system and whether it often acts to hinder justice rather than facilitate it. The Harbourns are seasoned criminals, adept at persuading a judge or a jury that they're innocent, or at least clouding the evidence so much that they force an acquittal. They always know their rights which makes the further violation of the privacy of their victims even more abhorrent. Unfortunately it's another topic that is too big and complicated for a short novel.

Although I find Anya Crichton a thoroughly dull lead character the skill with which Fox writes keeps me coming back for more. This is a novel for readers who like their crime fiction gritty, suspenseful and surprising. If Kathryn Fox can resist the temptation to pose questions that are for another place and time and sticks to writing slick, tidy crime fiction, she'll be mentioned in the same breath as Karin Slaughter, Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Fans of forensic crime fiction may like to take a look at The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett.

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