Due to a traumatic childhood incident, 18-year-old Patrick Fort is obsessed with death. He wants to analyze what happens when people die, which makes him a great candidate for the anatomy course at Cardiff University, which requires him and his classmates to dissect cadavers to determine cause of death.
When Patrick finds something unexpected inside his cadaver, he suspects that Number 19—the cadavers are assigned only numerical IDs—was murdered, despite the death certificate claiming natural causes. But Patrick’s attempts to prove his theory are hampered at every turn, resulting in events that threaten to grant him personal experience with the very condition he seeks to understand.
Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker is fast-paced and quick-witted, told from multiple points of view (one seems unnecessary, tied to an extraneous subplot). Patrick’s voice holds the most interest. He’s a curious and intelligent boy with Asperger’s syndrome, who takes everything literally and is deadly serious at all times, but is also funny and charming, albeit unintentionally.
Bauer’s (Blacklands) almost gleeful descriptions of cadaverous viscera display a macabre sense of humor that induces chuckles alongside groans of disgust. Then, with revelations that come only pages from the end, the author punches readers in the heart.
Though Rubbernecker, which was originally published in the UK, received the 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, it’s not just a mystery. It’s also a portrait of a memorable protagonist who finds a way to embrace life by confronting what lies beyond.
This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.