Pain Killer

Written by Nev Fountain

Review written by Bob Cartwright

Pain Killer
RRP: £7.99
Released: December 29 2016

Initial response: “Oh dear, what have I done to offend Mike Stotter?” when I received this book about chronic pain, with a promotional blurb that promises a continuation of The Gone Girl on a Train (falling asleep) theme.  However, the cardinal rule of reviewing is not to let your prejudice get the better of you. So I thought, give it a try. If it’s too unbearable I can always resort to Ibuprofen.

Our heroine Monica has been in chronic pain for years after a fall down some hospital stairs damaged her nervous system. Her pain relief schedule has not helped; in fact it has had severe side effects like memory loss. Her successful career as an Entertainment Agent is largely finished and she has become increasingly dependent on husband Dominic, a less than successful advertising copy-writer and part-time carer. The occasional return of memory leads Monica to think that her husband is not as caring as he pretends. Increasingly she believes he might have pushed her down the stairs, and even now, might be planning to kill her.

But medical science moves on with almost the same speed as the profits in Big Pharma. A new treatment is being pioneered using pepper plants to burn off the nerve cells which register the pain (this is a true medical procedure, showing again the educational value of crime fiction). Not a very pleasant option as the skin where the patches are applied suffers burning for some time after. But the results are apparently very promising so Monica’s doctor persuades her to give it a try. Husband Dominic is less sure and does his best to persuade Monica not to have the treatment, which only makes Monica more convinced that hubby does not really want her to get better. So she overrules him and goes for the pepper treatment and Lo and behold, it works. Her pain subsides and her memory starts to return. The downside is that she becomes even more suspicious of Dominic and her coterie of friends.

Sorry if this is boring you. Up to this point I was suffering from increasing boredom as well. But as Monica becomes an active participant in her world and less of a passive victim, Pain Killer becomes much more interesting. Friends and acquaintances take on transitional positions; on her side one moment, and seeking to destroy her the next moment. Dominic still occupies centre stage in this evolving drama, especially after the police turn up evidence that he has been seen Sarf of the River [aka South London] in an altercation with a gun runner. This is not the first time Dominic has attracted police attention, as a few years back he was arrested for plotting to kill Monica; and this becomes the crux of the book. Was Dominic really trying to kill Monica or was he just fulfilling her demand to end her suffering? And to what extent is Monica the passive victim of circumstance as opposed to an active manipulator of her situation?

Ultimately, it is worth persisting through the pain barrier to the concluding section of Pain Killer and through a constant stream of twists and turns which even a discerning reader cannot begin to anticipate. On balance this crime novel is an intriguing read but some readers might still feel it is a bit like a series of medical treatments, where often the supposed cure barely justifies the treatment.

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