#DampPebblesTours #NTDI #NotTheDeathsImagined #BlogTour
What I love most about book blogging is that I often come across books that I wouldn’t have found any other way. This novel is one of these. I’ve never read Anne Pettigrew before, but when the synopsis found its way to me for this tour I thought I would enjoy it. This is her second novel, categorised as ‘medical noir’ and although I haven’t read the previous one, it didn’t stop me enjoying this. Dr Beth Semple is a GP in a small practice in Edinburgh, as well as a wife and mother to two teenage girls. Her husband Ralph is a Professor of General Practice and they have one of the busiest households I have ever encountered in a novel! One afternoon Beth is telephoned by an associated practice and asked to visit the surgery to carry out the second section of a cremation form. Unusually, there has been a sudden death in the surgery that morning, recorded as an MI (myocardial infarction or heart attack). However, when she arrives at the other practice, she is uneasy about signing the form. She notices that the secretary and Dr Goodman’s accounts differ slightly, but also it doesn’t sound like a heart attack. On visiting the funeral director’s to view the body Beth notices what looks like injection sites and when Monty the funeral director tells her it isn’t Dr Goodman’s first sudden death during a routine appointment her mind is made up. She won’t sign the form and sets in motion the process for a post-mortem. The repercussions at work are huge because Dr Goodman pulls out of their pooled weekend rota and Beth’s senior partner is furious. Even more disturbing, over the coming weeks, are the series of dropped phone calls, poison pen letters and an attempt to poison their dog. Soon, Beth and her family, are caught up in a possible case of medical malpractice and even murder, and the consequences could be deadly.
The author created a great sense of place and time with her backdrop of 1990s Edinburgh. The little snippets of Scottish dialect brought a sense of warmth and grounded these characters within their world. Thanks to her 31 years of experience as a doctor, the author has first hand knowledge of the type of medical jargon used in Beth’s workplace, at home with husband Ralph, and with their large group of friends. There’s a great sense of camaraderie between this group and this comes from being at university together – covered in the first book. They’re likeable people, intelligent, friendly and all struggling to juggle their lives which was very relatable. Although, I would be exhausted if I adopted their work and social calendars. I kept wondering why the characters were so full of energy – every weekend was a weekend away, or with friends and family staying. They even take in a dog and cat! Their daughters are also busy, with exams, music practice and Katy’s boyfriend Neil. The surgery felt familiar with its regular patients, from the worried well, to those acutely ill. Although, Beth does observe that they’ve never had a death in the surgery so Dr Goodman’s record does seem strange. When two elderly ladies are found dead, one a friend of Beth’s, she begins her book of unusual events detailing the evidence she has so far. When her car tyres are slashed she does report her concerns to the police, only to find her own professional standards being brought into question.
Interspersed with Beth’s chapters are those written by the killer. It soon becomes clear he is a very disturbed man. In his younger years this man finds that the colour of his skin is a barrier. His father is mixed race and it’s evident that for the doctor this makes him feel impure in some way. He has read up on the latest theories in eugenics and has some abhorrent views on mixed race relationships, as well as an odd relationship with religion. He’s determined to ‘pass’ as white to the extent of bleaching his skin and straightening his hair. Slowly seeing this man’s mind deteriorate is quite chilling, more so as time goes on and we start to see him in his day job, full of charm and old-fashioned bedside manner. The contrast is startling, but there are times when I also found him comical. His crimes become more open and risky. The tension the author creates grows as Beth gets closer to his identity and the reader wonders what lengths he will go to in order to silence her. Where will he go once he has committed his final crimes? Even more concerning to me was how he was going to extricate himself from his family and if they’d ever recover from his psychological abuse and murderous intentions. The help Beth receives in the shape of a warning comes from the last place she expects.
This novel was well written and an interesting read, combining the interesting medical world with malpractice, negligence, and even murder. It’s possibly one of people’s worst fears, that the people who are meant to help and care for us are actually trying to harm instead. I liked that it didn’t talk down to the reader, but expected us to understand complex psychology and subjects like the history of eugenics. It made for an interesting mix when set alongside Beth’s family and busy social life. In fact the light relief of Beth’s normal family routine and their time with friends makes the killer’s narrative even more stark and abnormal. I felt so bad for his family, who are not allowed the freedoms enjoyed by other characters; his teenage son particularly had my sympathy. This is an intelligent thriller, full of interesting characters and with a truly unsettling villain. I enjoyed it immensely and I will be going back to read the first novel in the series.