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Sunday, 31 July 2016

‘Blood Symmetry’ by Kate Rhodes

Published by Mullholland Books,
21 July 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-444-78561-6 (TPB)

It’s impossible not to admire forensic psychologist Alice Quentin, though the prickly exterior she cultivates to counteract her baby-doll appearance makes her hard to get close to.

Blood Symmetry is the fifth in Kate Rhodes’s series featuring this unusual protagonist, and is a little different from the others in that it draws on a real-life medical scenario for its theme. The Tainted Blood scandal is to some extent still ongoing, and relates to a notorious blood product known as Factor 8, which infected many haemophiliac patients with devastating conditions including HIV and hepatitis C. The government has never fully accepted responsibility, and the sufferers remain inadequately compensated – if, indeed, any compensation could possibly be adequate.

In Rhodes’s narrative, Alice Quentin is newly appointed as deputy director of a leading forensic psychology organisation, and has not yet found her feet in her new role when she is called in as consultant to a police investigation. An eminent haematologist has been kidnapped, and a pint of her blood left in a prominent place. Her young son has narrowly escaped his captors, but is now terrified, mute and under guard. Alice’s task is to gain the boy’s trust and draw information out of him to enable the police to find his mother, as well as reviewing other aspects of the case and advising the investigating team on the best avenues to pursue.

Several murders follow, with blood as a linking factor, and eventually Alice makes the connection with the Tainted Blood investigation.

The case is played out against an emotionally charged background. Not only does Alice form an uncomfortably strong connection with Mikey, the missing haematologist’s son; she is in an uneasy personal relationship with the senior investigating officer, DCI Don Burns, and has come to know and like many of his team from a previous case.

It’s a grim tale, and not always easy to read, especially the sections which interleave Alice’s first-person narrative. The second viewpoint is the abductor, whose tragic motives elicit a certain sympathy, but whose methods are positively brutal.

Rhodes has clearly researched her subject; an endnote reveals a personal interest in the Tainted Blood scandal. She also has a deft hand with character; her men all have a sensitive streak, her women are feisty and her children engaging, but each in his or her unique way. Returning characters like Don Burns, Alice’s friend Lola and her brother Will develop new layers with each reappearance, and even the most minor bit-part players have a real personalities.

The Alice Quentin series is rapidly becoming one to look out for. I highly recommend this one, and look forward to the next.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Kate Rhodes was born in London. She has a PhD in modern American literature and has taught English at British and American universities. She spent several years working in the southern states of America, first in Texas, then at a liberal arts college in Florida. Kate’s first collection of poems Reversal was published in 2005, her second collection, The Alice Trap was published in 2008. The Guardian described her poems as “pared back and fast-moving, the short lines full of an energetic lightness of touch”. Kate has been awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship, and her poems have been shortlisted and won prizes in a number of competitions including the Bridport Prize and the Forward Prize. Kate is currently writing full-time and lives in Cambridge with her husband Dave Pescod, a writer and film maker. Crossbones Yard was Kate’s first crime novel. Blood Symmetry is the fifth in this highly acclaimed series.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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