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Macken, John - 'Trial by Blood'
Hardback: 384 pages (Feb. 2008) Publisher: Bantam Press ISBN: 0593056469

Debut novel DIRTY LITTLE LIES introduced GeneCrime, a high-tech forensic laboratory led by Reuben Maitland and attached to the UK police force. The first 100 or so pages of the sequel TRIAL BY BLOOD recap how everything went pear-shaped for the lab in the first book, leading to its quasi-undercover, semi-unofficial status in the second.

Reuben is a mess, professionally and personally - he lives apart from his wife and young son, and has lost touch with his twin brother, a drug addict. He's reduced to doing jobs for clients like mobster Kieran Hobbs and a superstar footballer suspicious of his wife. He himself takes amphetamines recreationally and isn't averse to the odd swig of laboratory ethanol. However, his brilliant invention of "predictive phenotyping", by which a tissue sample can be analysed to provide an image of the person from whom it came (pure science fiction), keeps the business afloat.

One plot of this rather busy book concerns a serial killer who is preying on women, managing to kill and attack them without leaving any forensic evidence. Another concerns the fallout from the previous book, in which a traitor was identified in the police associated with GeneCrime - but was he acting alone? Reuben is convinced that there is more to it, and tries to persuade straight-arrow (but, of course, attractive) DCI Sarah Hirst to his point of view. In an attempt to clarify this confusion of treachery, Reuben finds himself going undercover into London's Pentonville prison to discover why an inmate isn't apparently who he seems to be. Having fulfilled his immediate mission, however, he is horrified to find that he is being treated as a real prisoner, as there is no official record of his undercover status.

There are thrills and spills aplenty in TRIAL BY BLOOD, in which almost every character - whether a GeneCrime employee, a police officer or one of Kieran's hoods - is double-crossing everyone else or otherwise not what they seem. There are many scenes in which various characters find themselves alone late at night on the streets or in the lab and suffer the inevitable consequences. The plethora of themes in TRIAL BY BLOOD - double- and triple-crosses, paternity tests, child with fatal disease, gangsters, blackmail - conspire to reduce the tension, as there are too many plot elements and too many fleeting characters. In the end, all becomes clear more by a process of elimination (many characters do not survive) than clever detection. The book is more for those who like lots of action than for those who like a lean plot with strong characters.

Read another review of TRIAL BY BLOOD.

Maxine Clarke, England
May 2008

Maxine blogs at Petrona.

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 31/01/2009 15:39