Despite the fact that crime and mystery fiction is by far my favourite genre to read, I have to admit that I am rarely 'wowed' by a crime novel. I love the experience of getting sucked in to the twists and turns of a mystery, and being kept guessing right until the last minute, but once these stories are over they rarely stay with me for a long time. There are certainly very few crime novels on my list of five star, all time favourite reads.
So last year when I noticed all my favourite bloggers presenting glowing, five star reviews for Belinda Bauer's latest offering, I took a mental note of the title and vowed I'd get to it at some point. But I was a little disbelieving. Surely it can't be that good, can it? Well, having finally taken the plunge after stumbling across a copy via Transworld on Netgalley, I can eat my words and confirm that yes, Rubbernecker is that good, and completely stands out from the crime fiction crowd.
Since Patrick Fort lost his father in a car accident as a child, he has been obsessed with the mystery of death. Patrick has Asperger's syndrome and this drives him to seek a full understanding of the world around him. Embarking on university studies in Anatomy doesn't help Patrick to determine what exactly happened to his Dad, but he soon begins to notice irregularities in the dissection room and ends up trying to get to the bottom of another mystery entirely. But this isn't easy when the only clue he has is an anonymous cadaver with an official death certificate that appears to be entirely above board.
This is unlike anything I've read before. The protagonist and the premise are both completely unique, and Bauer has somehow managed to take some really dark subject matter and make it great fun to read about. The story flits between several different points of view and each one has a really distinct and engaging voice - Patrick himself, a coma patient on a hospital ward, a lazy and selfish nurse. You get absolutely sucked into the twists and turns of the plot and I stayed up far too late at night to reach the end.
I know it's a bit nerdy given my job but I can't help being drawn to novels with hospital or medical school settings. It is clear that Belinda Bauer has spent time in the dissection room herself and that she must have the keenest powers of observation to convey its unique atmosphere so accurately. The days of disrespectful pranks are long gone, but the utterly surreal atmosphere does breed a certain brand of black humour. Stories of Patrick and his team placing bets on the cause of death or trying to identify strange objects found in the digestive tract brought back recollections of my own anatomy lessons...I did consider sharing some anecdotes here but have refrained for fear that they might make some of my readers vomit. The very squeamish amongst you might want to take care when reading Rubbernecker because some of the scenes might be a little too gruesome for those with a delicate disposition - saying that, it is mostly quite clinical and there's no gratuitous gore or violence so I think most people would have no trouble.
Rubbernecker has drawn many comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and I feel I must address this because I found this a great deal more enjoyable to read. Where I saw Mark Haddon's book as almost a character study of a boy with Asperger's syndrome (don't get me wrong, I think it's a good read), Belinda Bauer has written a great mystery story where the protagonist just happens to have Asperger's syndrome. Patrick's character is engaging and sensitively drawn, but his diagnosis is never used as a plot device in itself.
This is such a unique mystery story and I had so much fun reading it. I really can't recommend it enough. I believe it came out in paperback on 2nd Jan so if this review has piqued your interest you might like to treat yourself!