Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham
The tormented, brilliant detective who doesn’t play well with others but has strong views on how people should comport themselves is a character as old as the crime-thriller genre itself. From Val McDermid’s Tony Hill to Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery and Ian Rankin’s alluring new protagonist, Malcolm Fox (with a nod to Poirot and Miss Marple), the best investigators possess a strong moral code and know exactly when the lines need to be blurred – and because they’re cleverer than anyone else, they get away with it.
Joseph (Joe) O’Loughlin is a worthy member of the club, both in biography (separated from his wife of 20 years, Julianne, with whom he remains in love, he makes forlorn attempts to re-engage with her while spending time with their two daughters) and personality (his worsening struggle with Parkinson’s disease exacerbates his natural tendency towards dourness).
Bleed for Me is the fourth Robotham novel in which Joe appears and is a swiftly-produced follow-up to last year’s bestselling Shatter, which saw Joe match wits with a demonically intelligent villain called Gideon Tyler.
Joe’s propensity to allow his work to swallow his personal life to the extent of endangering his family is the primary cause of the apparently irreparable rent in the fabric of his marriage, and it is evident he hasn’t learned his lesson when, at the outset of Bleed for Me, he finds his daughter Catherine’s best friend, 14-year-old Sienna Hegarty, barefoot, bleeding and near-catatonic next to a stream. Back at the Hegarty home, Sienna’s father Ray is found bludgeoned to death.
Sienna, the prime suspect, is taken into psychiatric care – but it is immediately apparent to Joe that she is not the culprit.
Robotham likes to pit Joe against a foe who shares his intelligence but lacks his physical frailties – a virile, younger man who represents the darker aspects of the human condition. In Shatter, he created a memorable villain in the form of the sadistic Tyler; in Bleed for Me, Joe’s well-honed sense of there’s-something-off-about-this-guy-I’m-gonna-stalk-him-till-he-snaps is tweaked by Gordon Ellis, a teacher at Sienna and Catherine’s school.
Investigation reveals that Ellis’s first wife vanished, leaving behind their young son. Yet more probing (Joe is an expert prober who hates to miss a chance to provoke) reveals that the wife’s vanishing occurred at the same time that Ellis began an affair with a student, now his second wife.
Joe’s hackles are up, and when it is discovered that Sienna had a recent pregnancy, he feels certain that he’s pieced the puzzle together – but can it be that easy? And how does a high-profile race-hate trial fit into the picture?
Despite the lone-wolf nature of the best fictional detectives, they are invariably accompanied by a handful of offsiders with whom they enjoy gruff, teasing banter and who swoop in to provide vital assistance or succour when things are at their diciest. Joe has such a support in the form of DCI Ronnie Cray, a memorable figure who brings both humour and humanity to what is at times a grim story.
Few thriller writers rival Robotham for plot and pacing. Bleed for Me thrums with electricity and the rhythm, always tricky in such plot-driven works that build to a big pay-off, is pitch-perfect.
This review was previously published on Coast.co.nz.
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones