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Hayes, Jonathan - 'A Hard Death'
Paperback: 480 pages (Nov. 2009) Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd ISBN: 0099538644

Jonathan Hayes is a career forensic pathologist, a senior Medical Examiner in Manhattan and now a freelance writer. This is his second book, and it features a medical examiner, Jenner, who recently lost his New York licence after forming a relationship with a female victim of a serial killer, after rescuing her. He's filling in for an old friend, the medical examiner for Port Fontaine, Douglas County, Florida, who has just departed on a long trip for three months with his wife. Jenner is living in a run-down hotel, is low on funds, and doesn't expect much action in a place where people come to retire. But then a car is pulled up out of the water with two bodies inside, which turn out to be his friend and his wife. Not long after that, he's tipped off about the bodies of two Mexicans, who have been hanged, and left out in the swamp, and on finding them, he finds two more a short distance away. Is there a connection? Why were the Mexicans killed, and in such a seemingly horrific way? Why were his friends killed? The local police appear to be corrupt, Jenner doesn't know who to trust and more people are killed, until finally Jenner himself finds himself in great danger, as he starts to uncover the truth.

Jenner is the archetypal hardball hero, who, although a mere medical examiner, is fit and able to take care of himself. The plot moves forward rapidly, and there is plenty of action. There isn't much in the way of detection, and the story mainly unfolds through anonymous tip-offs, and chance. There are some pretty nasty characters involved, even down to a reporter trying to make her reputation (and TV show) by flying out to Florida to cover the killings and to try to expose Jenner as incompetent. Jenner is clearly attractive to women, but the woman he likes has a daughter with anorexia, and a bizarre relationship with her father, who stops her seeing Jenner. Disappointingly, even though Jenner is an ME, and he does the medical examinations of the bodies, even his friends' (which seems somewhat unethical), there is very little detail on the examinations themselves. This is even more of a pity, considering that the author has been a senior Medical Examiner himself.

Overall, it's a pretty straightforward novel, with a few twists and turns, but nothing that really distinguishes it greatly from other novels in this genre. Most of the criminals get their comeuppance, as rightly deserved, and a few other innocents die along the way. If you like fast paced, high action crime, with lots of bodies, then this one is for you.

Michelle Peckham, England
November 2009

More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 1/11/2009 11:17