Goddard, Robert - 'Blood Count'
BLOOD COUNT, the twenty-second novel by Robert Goddard, is standalone thriller whose protagonist is the successful liver surgeon Edward Hammond. As the book opens, Hammond is in the departure lounge waiting to join his friends on an Alpine skiing holiday. But a young woman approaches him, Ingrid Hurtado Gazi, who spoils his relaxation and forces him to cancel the holiday. Ingrid knows a potentially shaming secret: that Hammond accepted a quarter of a million pounds to carry out liver transplant surgery on her father, the warlord Dragan Gazi, henchmen of Milosevic. Gazi is currently under lock and key, undergoing trial for war crimes at the Hague and Ingrid needs to access Gazi's ill-gotten money, hidden away by his accountant, Marco Piravani. Piravani has ignored the messages she has sent, so Ingrid wants to track him down. But as she is almost certainly under surveillance she cannot risk a direct approach, and uses Hammond's secret to blackmail him into helping her contact Piravani and persuade him to transfer the money to her.
Hammond finds it relatively easy to track down Piravani, but somewhat harder to coax him to give away the money. When Piravani disappears, Hammond goes on a hunt across Europe to track him down, starting off at the Hague. When Hammond goes to view Gazi's trial at the Hague, he meets Gazi's former mistress, Zineta, who is also watching the court proceedings. Zineta bears no loyalty to Gazi who abducted their son, and is quite glad to see Gazi brought to justice, and agrees to help Hammond find out more about Piravani, as Piravani might know something about her missing son's whereabouts. Hammond's trail leads him further into Europe, to Switzerland and Serbia, and to wider considerations than helping Ingrid access her father's blood money, as Hammond looks for a chance to redeem his earlier greed in taking Gazi's money for the operation.
If you suspend disbelief in the basic premise, that a senior medic is seen as the most appropriate person to retrieve missing war loot and can deal with violent war criminals and their henchmen, the characterisation of Hammond is very well done. The author takes him on an interesting psychological journey towards redemption. Hammond starts out as a successful but rather sheltered medic, who turned a blind eye to the ethics of using his medical skills to help a warlord for the sake of a convenient financial reward. His only interest in the former Yugoslavia is in placating Ingrid, so he can save his bacon professionally and in his personal life. But as the novel progresses, Hammond becomes rather more thoughtful, thinking through the wider implications of his actions, and the desirability of bringing Gazi and his henchmen to justice. Zineta is also an interesting if less well sketched character, whose motives are somewhat mixed at times and acts as a bit of a wild-card in moving the plot along. BLOOD COUNT is a very well written and well plotted page-turner, with genuine suspense, as you never know quite where this will all end, and who can be trusted. Robert Goddard is clearly a high skilled and versatile author, and I look forward to reading his extensive back catalogue.
Laura Root, England