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Bauer, Belinda - 'Rubbernecker'
Paperback: 432 pages (Jan. 2014) Publisher: Black Swan ISBN: 0552779490

The counsellor sighed. "You see, Patrick, when someone dies, it's like going through a door. Once that door closes behind them, they can't come back." Patrick had never heard of a door you could only go through one way. He hadn't seen a door opening or closing - or even his father moving towards it...

Driving towards Cardiff a car skids on the ice, jumps the barrier and somersaults towards the river below. Patrick is on his way to a college interview but slowed by the flashing lights and the craning necks of the passing drivers his mother's car is forced to a stop. Despite his mother's shouts, Patrick leaves the car and joins the firemen standing at the barrier. "Are they dead?" he asks.

As a child he had trouble fitting in at school. His obsessions, repetitions and physical withdrawal brought him rejection from his classmates. At the age of eight Patrick reacted to an insult and a punch in the back from another boy by waiting until that boy had reached the bottom of his down-swing on the play equipment and smashing him in the face with a rounders bat. His father had had to leave work in the middle of the day to fetch Patrick - and died as a consequence, hit by a car as they crossed the road.

After that, Patrick's fixation with death worried his mother: the dead animals and birds brought back from his solitary walks, his obsessive study of them and their dissection. But now, eighteen and diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, he has been accepted at Cardiff for a place on the anatomy course - a valued student required for fulfilment of their disability quota...

The central character of Belinda Bauer's standalone crime novel RUBBERNECKER is Patrick Fort, a young man with Asperger's. Neither understanding nor seeing clearly what happened to his father when he was killed has fed Patrick's continuous and meticulous search for the "closed door" of death. He begins an anatomy course at Cardiff where he becomes convinced that the cadaver that he and his fellow students are dissecting is that of a murdered man. In his obsessive hunt for answers he breaks too many rules and, disgraced, has no option but to continue his search for the cause of death - and the killer - on his own.

The book is written in the voices or points of view of several characters apart from Patrick: a comatose accident victim as he resurfaces from unconsciousness, a nurse on the neurological ward who is on the look out for a desirable husband and last but not least Patrick's anxious mother. But the energising voice and eye in RUBBERNECKER is that of Patrick himself whom Bauer has said that she wanted to keep "difficult and challenging, with skills that come from obsession, not from genius". Patrick's logical, literal world is both refreshing and involving and reviews have compared this book to Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME. But those crime fiction addicts who have watched the Danish-Swedish thriller The Bridge can also connect with the blunt, brilliant and socially-challenged Inspector Saga Noren. With a sure touch Belinda Bauer has created a crime novel enriched by onion-layers of characters which develop the satisfying sense of wholeness in Patrick's story. His stripped-down view is offset by the dark humour of the coma ward where potential crime seems to abound - and by the cramped, sloppy flat which Patrick shares with two art students who jostle for drama and the attention of Lexi whom we meet throwing bricks at her stepmother's house. Such a rich technique of storytelling through characters is absorbing when done as well as this. The only drawback to this that I found was a "bumpy" finish to the book as more than one character's story is resolved - not least Patrick's own.

RUBBERNECKER has already found success, popularity and praise and I am not surprised. I ate it up in just two big gulps, smacked my lips and wondered if I'd ever encounter Patrick again. I hope so. Read RUBBERNECKER. What else can I say?

Read another review of RUBBERNECKER.

Lynn Harvey, England
March 2014

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 9/03/2014 09:14