Book Title: VIOLENT EXPOSURE
Author: Katherine Howell
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
When Suzanne Crawford is found stabbed to death and her husband Connor is discovered to be missing, it looks like just another tragic case of domestic violence to Detective Ella Marconi. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. Why is there no record of Connor Crawford beyond a few years ago? Why has a teenager who worked for the pair gone missing too? And above all, what was the secret Suzanne knew Connor was keeping at all costs – even from her?
As Ella begins to build a picture of the Crawfords' fractured lives, things around her are deteriorating. Her relationship with a fellow officer is hanging by a thread and her parents seem to be keeping secrets of their own. But Ella only has time for the job she loves, and she knows she has to see her way through the tangled web of deceit and lies to get at the truth – before it's too late.
Katherine Howell is rapidly becoming one of my stars of crime fiction writing in Australia. Part of what really works in Howell's books (and VIOLENT EXPOSURE is no exception) is the way that the viewpoint is slightly skewed from the common police, detective, investigator concentration. In all the books there is a paramedic viewpoint (no surprise as she was a paramedic herself for 14 years), but I particularly like the way that even that predictable element is slightly twisted in all the books - but even more so in VIOLENT EXPOSURE.
The central thread of this book is the stabbing murder of Suzanne Crawford and the police search for her missing husband, believed to be her killer. The secondary thread is built around a crew of three ambulance officers. Carly and trainee Aidan are called to the Crawford home not long before Suzanne is killed. Aidan, the young trainee, is cocky, opinionated, his work record is poor. Sleeping with Suzanne after attending to her in the aftermath of a domestic assault is just another example of his incredibly poor judgement and behaviour. Carly and Aidan's other supervising senior, Mick, are already writing up very negative reports on Aidan's work performance before that event, but then Mick makes a mistake.
The interesting thing about VIOLENT EXPOSURE is that while that Detective Ella Marconi is investigating the murder of Suzanne Crawford, the thread involving the ambulance officers interweaves and balances out the book. At the same time, Ella's own life isn't left one-dimensional - the job and just the job. She has a teetering relationship with another police officer and aging parents to deal with as well as the day to day difficulties of finding Connor Crawford and working out if he did really kill his wife. These multi-threads create a very realistic feeling for a procedural style of novel, and, despite Howell's own personal background obviously informing one particular aspect, each of the viewpoints feels authentic, well-informed and well-formed.
Howell really writes her characters well, she makes them nuanced. What's particularly interesting in VIOLENT EXPOSURE is the idea that a likeable and sympathetic man like Mike can do something stupid and the reader is left trying to decide whether to condone or condemn. All of the while there's the matching idea that it's all to easy to assume that Suzanne's husband is guilty and to convict him before he's even found.
VIOLENT EXPOSURE has good pace, and a great set of characters. There's an interesting and nicely complicated story behind Suzanne's death, there are ramifications for lots of people's actions, and a nice piece of moral ambiguity to give readers something to chew on. Just some of the reasons Howell is becoming one of my personal stars of crime fiction writing in Australia.