Title: Web of Deceit
Author: Katherine Howell
Publisher: Macmillan Australia
Read: September 20 - October 10, 2013
Read an Excerpt: click here
When paramedics Jane and Alex encounter a man refusing to get out of his crashed car with bystanders saying he deliberately drove into a pole, it looks like a cry for help. His claim that someone is out to get him adds to their thinking that he is delusional.
Later that day he is found dead under a train in what might be a suicide, but Jane is no longer so sure: she remembers the terror in his eyes.
Detective Ella Marconi shares Jane's doubts, which are only compounded when the case becomes increasingly tangled. The victim's boss tries to commit suicide when being questioned, a witness flees their attempt to interview her and a woman is beaten unconscious in front of Jane's house.
Ella is at a loss to know how all these clues add up and then a shocking turn of events puts even more people in danger...
I have always thought that paramedics would make great protagonists of a crime novel, coming in contact with all sorts of different people and crime scenes. I was thrilled to see that not only did Katherine Howell realise this potential, but she also executed it with such skill that she has created a truly remarkable series of police procedurals featuring charismatic detective Ella Marconi as well as various paramedic teams – and as an extra bonus, they are all set in Australia.
Paramedics Alex and Jane are called to a motor vehicle accident in Sydney, car vs power pole. The driver, Marco Meixner, appears unhurt, but extremely distressed, claiming he is being followed and in danger of his life but unwilling to give more information about his alleged pursuer. At first Alex and Jane put his claims down to a psychiatric disorder and delusional thoughts, but when he is found dead under a train later that afternoon, they start to believe that there may have been a sinister truth to his claims. Detective Ella Marconi, who is sent to investigate the incident, discovers that Marco was the sole witness of a murder seventeen years ago, leading to the conviction of the perpetrator, who has just recently been released on parole. When she starts digging into Marco’s past it soon becomes apparent that there are secrets he has hidden from his wife and friends – which someone is trying to protect at all costs and may just be the reason he had to die.
I love Howell’s writing style – whilst Ella Marconi features in every book in the series, she introduces different paramedics in each novel, their lives providing a parallel storyline to the crime under investigation. Here we learn of Jane’s secret affair with a famous lover, which goes terribly wrong, whilst single father Alex battles with his recalcitrant teenage daughter Mia. Their experiences on the streets of Sydney provide the reader with many interesting snippets of the everyday work of a paramedic. Drawing on her own experiences in the profession, the stories are believable and engaging, the information accurate and detailed enough to also hold the interest of readers who are in the medical profession. Her “warts and all” approach paints a realistic picture of life on the city streets and the city’s inhabitants. This is no glorified Hollywood movie - unlike many other crime novelists she is not afraid to unmask the boring and tedious side of police work, which form a large part of any investigation, such as workplace politics and restrictions such as funding cuts and red tape. Neither does she hold back when it comes to the everyday experiences of her paramedic protagonists, which can be horrific enough to result in lasting mental scars for Alex, who still battles with PTSD after attending an MVA resulting in the death of a teenage girl a few months ago.
Ella herself is a likeable protagonist, who struggles with issues in her own personal life, such as her new love affair with a young doctor who is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder. In fact, the dynamics of human relationships underpin every part of Web of Deceit – a parent worried about his teenage daughter, a jilted lover, a jealous girlfriend, an abused partner, a bereaved wife … each emotion presented in a heart-felt fashion which instantly grabs the reader and drives the storyline. I was especially touched by a scene describing the reaction of a young pregnant wife when told by police that her husband had been killed – it read heartfelt and true, like so many of the emotion driven scenes in Web of Deceit.
I loved this book so much that I immediately rushed out to get an earlier book in the series – Frantic – and I am deeply engrossed in it already. Katherine Howell is evidence of the great talent we have in Australia when it comes to crime fiction, and it is easy to see why Web of Deceit was nominated for the Ned Kelly Award 2013. I can see the writing on the wall that this will be one book series that will be utterly addictive and hold me in its grip for many hours yet to come. Highly recommended.