Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Precious Blood - Jonathan Hayes

Edward Jenner is a former medical examiner living in New York City. He is pulled back into his craft when his good friend, Douggie's niece, Ana, witnesses the gruesome murder of her roommate, Andy. Andy's father hires Jenner to examine his daughter's case alongside the New York City medical examiner, Steve Whittaker. When Whittaker overlooks a vital piece of evidence left on the body, Jenner doesn't. The murderer left markings on the body, markings that resemble Greek writing. The case turns out to be more than Jenner bargained for when a string of similar murders, also with the strange writing, are discovered and the monster comes after Ana.

Several days ago, Oline Cogdill had a post on her Off the Page: On Books and Culture blog that linked to old rules for writing detective stories. You can see them here or here. I had to laugh reading them. Most writers at some point or another have "broken" these "rules." Jonathan Hayes definitely did with Precious Blood, but one rule he nailed - "It must be a murder mystery ('the deader the corpse the better')." You can't get much deader than Hayes' victims in this novel. And Precious Blood is not for the squeamish reader either. Hayes is a medical examiner himself, and he didn't hold back on the graphic details involved in the deaths at the hands of his psycho killer. Hopefully that statement doesn't sound like a negative point against the novel because it isn't. The detail was very realistic; the kind of detail that makes you double check your door locks at night.

Edward Jenner is a character that intrigues me. He comes into this story with baggage from his experiences through the 9/11 tragedy. His foil is Steve Whittaker. Jenner is a character who is capable of compassion and emotion. Whittaker is cold and unrelenting. Jenner is driven by his relationships with others, even the dead bodies. Whitaker is driven only by his ambition and his desire to be recognized. But Jenner isn't predictable. Often when we have a character who is compassionate and kind and whatnot, we can predict everything that person is going to do, or we know HOW that person is "supposed" to behave in accordance with the stereotype. Jenner doesn't always follow that pattern, and that can be unsettling. Even now having finished the book, I'm still trying to figure out little nuances about Jenner's character. I think Hayes wants Jenner to maintain that little bit of mystery but still be a dependable character. And let's face it, how often are "real" beings truly predictable 100% of the time?

Jun is probably my favorite character in the book. He brings a touch of comic relief to the extremely dark plot. And the idea of the leather pants, the orange fur coat...he definitely stands out.

I'm often critical of female characters, especially if they fall too closely to the "stereotypical" damsel in distress. Ana was too much of a "damsel in distress" for me to really like her. But I regularly reminded myself that she was supposed to be a typical, college-age, party girl. That was supposed to be her role. And she fit that role well.

The plot of Precious Blood was a complex series of events. I listened to this book on audio and I'm not sure if I maybe missed some points at the end, but there were some elements that I thought were left hanging; they didn't quite end up all neatly knitted into the design of the plot. And the other possibility is that Hayes is impressing on the reader that a psychopath can't be explained. There will always be questions left hanging; it's the nature of the beast.

The questions that obviously were not answered for a reason are the ones that I am confident will appear in the sequel to this novel. I don't see Whittaker going away. Hayes left the door wide open for Jenner to return.

The reader for this audio book was Kirby Heyborne. I believe this is the first audio I've heard of his reading, and I think he did an outstanding job. I'm not an expert on dialects, but I was impressed with his changing between Asian, Hispanic and Irish throughout the novel. Heyborne provided each character with a distinct sound. And he infused a very darkly dramatic tone befitting the novel.


Serena October 28, 2008 at 9:30 PM  

This sounds like a great audiobook. I think I'd like to check it out.

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