SJI Holliday has been reading crime fiction since she was able to hold a book. She writes short stories and her debut novel, Black Wood was published in spring 2015. You can find out more at www.sjiholliday.com.
Life is already strange enough for the obsessive Patrick Fort without having to solve a possible murder. Especially when no one believes a crime has even taken place. Now he must stay out of danger long enough to unravel the mystery - while he dissects his own evidence. But as Patrick learns one truth from a dead man, he discovers there have been many other lies rather closer to home...
There is always an element of fear for the reader when an author steps away from their tried and tested series format. This is Bauer’s first standalone novel after the success of her three Midsummer-esque Shipcott novels, Blacklands, Darkside and Finders Keepers and it is quite a departure both in content and style.
Since the Harrogate ‘Special Edition’ was released last summer, the novel has already created quite a buzz; and thankfully, it’s no disappointment.
It starts with a car accident and we are immediately plunged into the mind of the victim of the crash, Sam Galen, who is now in a coma, before being introduced to the main protagonist, Patrick Fort, who appears fascinated with the suggestion that someone might be ‘dead’. Patrick, it seems, has some form of Asperger’s, and has been fascinated with death since he ‘lost’ his father and couldn’t work out why he couldn’t find him anywhere. So he goes to Cardiff University to study anatomy and try to unlock the mysteries of what happens to the dead.
Meanwhile, in the Cardiff Hospital Neurological ward, comically inept nurse, Tracy Evans, is more concerned with handsome doctors and flirting with the husband of one of the coma patients than the poor, helpless creatures she’s meant to be caring for on the ward… one of whom, is fully aware of what is going on around him and suspects that some of the patients are being murdered… and is convinced that he is next.
Cue Patrick, with his quirks of personality and obsession with death. Through his straightforward, methodical approach to life and the carving of cadavers, he’s not going to give up until he gets a satisfying answer to what it is he wants to know: where do dead people go?
The university scenes, the hospital scenes, the relationships that Patrick has with his mother and with his fellow students: all are realistically portrayed with elegant prose, perfect pacing and a darkly humorous tone that can’t fail to engage readers.
This is not so much a crime novel, but a novel about life, and about death, and about everything that falls in between. If you’ve never read Belinda Bauer before, you should definitely start with this. It may only be January, but I’m tipping this as one of the BIG hits of 2013.