Review: Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

skin_and_bone.jpg    Kathryn Fox
Macmillan, 273 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

Presented with a pristine copy of Kathryn Fox's new crime novel Skin and Bone I stroked the cover and inhaled that new book smell, anticipating the sensual, as well as intellectual, pleasure of reading. The cover promised so much. An intriguing and sinister title and a quote from the Herald-Sun review screamed "Australia's answer to Patricia Cornwell". Big shoes to fill.

I started reading, but instead of the nail-down-blackboard, can't put it down, gruesome chill and thrill of early Ms. Cornwell, I began to think to myself Kathryn, why did you bother? You haven't tried very hard with this one.

As I read I began to see Kathryn sitting in her study, a story board in front of her, with cards representing her characters being ruthlessly pushed around with as many crime fiction clichés attached to them as she could muster. The lacklustre plot was predictable as soon as all the players were introduced. "Australia's answer to Patricia Cornwall" is a pale copy.

Detective Kate Farrer, returning to work after a traumatic abduction, is confronted by two deaths by fire, a missing daughter of influential parents, a lost baby that may or may not exist and a connection to drug rapists. She also has to deal with a new partner who appears to be corrupt, although a sensitive new age family man in his personal life. The chase is on ... and what a boring chase it is!

If I have to read about one more childless career woman who knows nothing about babies (who does until you have one?) and is made to seem unnatural because of it, I will have to scream. This is such an annoying cliché. However, contrasting her with a male detective who has four kids and one on the way and can tell how old a baby is by the amount of holes in it's bottle teat is equally silly. That, and the bit where his wife has given up her legal career to be a stay at home mother to five children and live on a cop's salary ... yeah ... right ... like that's gonna happen.

Every detail is over explained so that it feels slightly like a lecture. In her previous novel, Without Consent, she did a much better job describing the dealings of the sexual assault unit and their work with rape victims. Her characters were well rounded and the story well crafted. I wanted to finish reading it. In Skin and Bone (precious little of either), I just didn't care very much about any of the protagonists. Ms Fox touches on the shady area of resort/cruise drug rape, an interesting topic ripped from the headlines. I know I was appalled last year following the case of a group of men alleged to have done this on a P&O Cruise, resulting in a woman's death. This horrific type of crime was used as a minor plot device and I was disappointed that it wasn't taken further to create a more original and topical story.

What makes a great crime novel is not just a cracking good mystery, interesting setting or fast paced action, but the complex, well-developed and often deeply flawed characters of the detectives and the criminals. Like us, they have to overcome their own shortcomings to achieve their goals. We don't even have to like them, but they must engage us. I especially like it when the criminal is as likable as the detective. Who can forget Hannibal Lector?

*** Spoiler Alert ***

In Skin and Bone the drug rapist Mark Dobbie is thoroughly unsavoury. I kept asking myself why would women even speak to him in the first place? It wasn't really believable that he would have the success he was apparently having. He could have been so much more, more charm, more rat cunning. The real villain of the piece. I wanted to know more about his motivation and background.

There was really no worthy adversary for Kate and Oliver to pit themselves against. Kate's battle with herself to get back on top of her job mentally just didn't come across strongly enough to compel the action. Neither did the anti-corruption subplot that went nowhere. The climax of the novel, where Kate was inevitably going to have to conquer her claustrophobia and get cosy with a baby, was like a flashing beacon from the beginning. And isn't it always the obsessive mother? Aren't all stepfathers like Woody Allen (of course he was bonking the pretty one)?

At least with Patricia Cornwell we get cooking tips, lesbian chic and we can indulge in Lucyrage (like roadrage, but you have an overwhelming desire to slap Lucy very, very hard. I know she's a made up person ... I really, really do!)

I think that Kathryn Fox has a lot of potential but is not ready to take her place amongst the Queens of Crime just yet.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 11, 2008 12:18 PM.

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