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Bauer, Belinda - 'Rubbernecker'
Hardback: 320 pages (Jan. 2013) Publisher: Bantam Press ISBN: 0593066928

A rubbernecker is often someone who cranes their head to look at the aftermath of a car accident on the road, the story of which, is how this book begins. The driver, Sam, ends up in the coma ward in a hospital in Cardiff, where one of the first things the new nurse on the ward learns is that there are 'good' and 'bad' coma patients. Good ones are quiet, do not cause trouble, and have grateful relatives who bring chocolates for the nurses. Bad ones are noisy, sometimes (unknowingly) violent, have ungrateful relatives, and are deservedly in a coma as a result of a drug overdose, drunken brawl, or the like. The interior voice of Sam, demonstrates that he is a good coma patient. But, as he starts to come out of his coma, he sees something odd happening to a bad coma patient in the next bed, and then that patient dies. A deliberate act? And with what consequences?

Meanwhile, Patrick, a high functioning autistic teenager is still puzzling over the death of his father ten years ago, when he was eight. He has never managed to understand what happens when someone dies, how a person be there one minute and gone the next. He decides to study anatomy at the University of Cardiff to try to discover the difference between life and death. His mother, who clearly doesn't like her son, is grateful that he is leaving home.

Once at University, alongside medical students, he starts to dissect a body. One of their challenges is to discover why the person died. Frustratingly, the body of the 47-year-old man seems to be completely normal, although a small hole in his side suggests tube-feeding in hospital. Then they find a peanut in his throat. But that could not have caused his death, could it?

Patrick is an interesting 'hero' because of his Asperger's, which means that he speaks completely openly, takes things said to him literally, and finds relationships with others difficult. Gradually he learns to overcome his handicap, as he lives away from home for the first time. As he begins to mature, he also becomes obsessed with discovering how his 'body' died.

Gradually, the links between the two story-lines begin to emerge, and a number of different plot lines are developed. This was an intriguing read that I very much enjoyed, made satisfying by the neat tying together of the diverse story lines at the end. Patrick is a highly likeable character, who has an appealing, almost childlike, and a dogged determination to get to the bottom of life and death, and to discover what killed his 'body'. A great book that kept me up reading till late, and which I thoroughly recommend.

Read another review of RUBBERNECKER.

Michelle Peckham, England
January 2013

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 9/03/2014 08:19