The novel begins with a diary entry by a girl named Sienna about how she cuts herself because “when i bleed i feel calm and clear-headed. it’s like the poison inside me is dripping out. even when i’ve stopped bleeding, i finger the cuts lovingly. i kiss them goodnight.” As if that’s not disturbing enough, we find out the girl is only fourteen. And one day she shows up at her best friend Charlie’s house covered in blood. But it’s not her own—it belongs to her father, a former cop who lies dead back at their house. The police suspect Sienna of murder, and she claims she can’t remember what happened.
Charlie’s father, Joseph O’Loughlin, is a psychologist who tries to help Sienna through the trauma. As he probes into her mind and life, however, he discovers more horrors than answers. Despite his failing marriage and worsening Parkinson’s disease, O’Laughlin becomes determined to protect Sienna from the evils that threaten to destroy her and the community he lives in.
Normally I don’t like a lot of descriptive prose, which can slow the pace, especially in a thriller. But Robotham has such a facility with language that I found myself savoring every word and taking copious notes of my favorite lines. He’s even good at describing the weather:
Outside in the weak sunshine, looking across the hospital grounds, I watch a mower creating verdant strips of green on the turf, light green and dark green. A curtain of rain is hanging above the horizon as though unsure whether to spoil the day.
Here, he paints a less-than-desirable neighborhood:
There are hookers walking up and down Fishponds Road: women who are women and men who are women and crackheads who will be anything you want.
A flash of humor found in a bathroom:
Someone has scrawled a message in marker pen above the urinal: “Express Lane: five beers or less.”
But the author is best at depicting his characters, especially O’Loughlin, a flawed, complex, and immensely sympathetic creation. His estranged wife sums him up when she tells him, “You’re like an archaeologist piecing together his own remains, finding bits and pieces but nothing whole.” We root for him because he keeps trying to come close to happy and whole anyway, knowing his limitations. His Parkinson’s makes him unique as a series protagonist (this book is number four) but it’s neither the focus of his life nor a random trait just to make him quirky. At one point, the affliction makes his body fail at such a harrowing moment that my heart almost failed as well. In my reading experiences, I sometimes have to choose between novels that are strong in either plot, language, or characters. Unlike O’Loughlin with his bits and pieces, I found something wholly satisfying here.
Nerd verdict: Bloody good Bleed