Dead Pretty

Written by Candy Denham

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

Dead Pretty
Crime Scene Books
RRP: £7.99
Released: July 24 2017

Before she kicked off the Dr. Jocasta Hughes series, Candy Denman trained as a nurse and worked in the National Health Service. The background shows – and in a good way – in Dead Pretty, Hughes’s first outing, where she is a GP and consultant to the local Hastings police.

Medical detail and the inner workings of the NHS are Denman’s major strengths in this all too realistic tale of a man (presumably) who murders local women. The humdrum of a local GP’s life coupled with the dispiriting but exciting consultancy lend Dead Pretty a powerful ring of authenticity. Denman manages to weave the banal and the extraordinary into a tapestry that does the job of keeping the reader guessing and interested in Jocasta and what might happen to her in further novels.

In between coping with the unhelpful parents of a very ill little boy (one of the more moving subplots) and maintaining her own sanity, Hughes is assisting the Police in the hunt for a killer.

Two of the victims are prostitutes, another a supermarket check-out clerk and Hughes helps the pathologist in these cases. She also befriends one of the women’s best friends. She knows she’s getting too close but a strong feminist streak has her take the murders very personally. The glib detachment of the Cops occasionally veers into cruelty such as when the male officers dismiss or seemingly blame the victims for their fates. The strongest moments in the book are when Jocasta confronts the sexism, bureaucracy and obfuscation within the system.

I also liked the sections when we get in Jocasta’s head; there are some lovely flourishes when the good doctor cannot let go of troubling cases, even when she’s in the midst of some ‘horizontal Rumba’ action (which comes courtesy of the handsome surgeon Jonathan Kane). Their fledgling romance is both foreground and background but saying too much more would be a serious spoiler. It is cute in parts with some nifty sexting and sexy moments.

Hughes’s medical knowledge and stubbornness eventually lead her to the correct suspect. Another character component is her kindness, her compassionate nature which shows up in her treatment of patients and friends alike. Not that she’s a saint (which would be deathly boring). Denman uses Hughes to make pointed digs at the hypochondriacs and deniers who inevitably waste a busy GP’s precious time. Bureaucratic ineptitude and stale biscuits are singled out drolly as particular sources of irritation. Also potent is Denman’s contrasting of the cotton-wool family setting Jocasta grew up in against the grubby, shabby council estates she visits as part of her inquiries. I could smell and feel those places and sense the human misery mingled with cigarette smoke and cheap cooking oil that assaults Jocasta’s nose and spirit.

At one point, a police officer teasingly refers to Hughes as “The Miss Marple of Hastings.” Not sure Hastings is en route to beating St. Mary Mead status in the crime fiction stakes. However I am sure many readers will welcome the return of Jocasta Hughes. MD.  

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