Crime Scene: KATHERINE HOWELL Tell the Truth: An Ella Marconi novel. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm
This is the end – for now – of the Ella Marconi series by Australian thriller writer Katherine Howell.
In 2007 paramedic Katherine Howell caused quite a stir in crime-fiction fan circles with the release of her debut novel Frantic. Detective Ella Marconi made her first appearance in a desperate search to find a kidnapped baby boy. The viewpoint of the paramedic involved was up front, looking at a crime scene from a completely different angle from the usual police perspective. In this case the paramedic was a woman, Lauren, whose son had been taken, whose job may have had a direct impact on her personal life.
In 2008 the second book, The Darkest Hour, kept that intermingling of police and emergency services focus with paramedic Lauren both present at a series of violent crime scenes Marconi is working, and knowing more about the killer than she’s prepared to admit. Cementing the pattern for this series, these books use different viewpoints, but never let up on the tension, the menace and the pace.
Cold Justice (2010) was a cold-case investigation, restarted due to political pressure from paramedic Georgie Daniels, who discovered a body 19 years ago. The complications of that time come back to haunt her via the investigation and in her work, where she’s paired with her old school friend Freya. The use of the cold-case scenario gives this book a slightly different feel, as does the move away from the crime-scene involvement of the paramedic into something much closer to home
The next book was Violent Exposure, with an even more complicated paramedic/crime-scene connection, in that this time paramedic trainee Aidan, first on the scene with his partner Carly at the stabbing murder of Suzanne Crawford, turns out to have been sleeping with the victim – whose husband is prime suspect in the killing, and missing himself. In this novel, Howell starts to explore questions of right and wrong, and moral ambiguity.
2012 brought Silent Fear and the chance for Howell to examine fractured families and their connections. In this case, first-on-scene paramedic Holly finds her estranged brother claiming to be a friend of the victim. It gets more complicated when her fiancé also becomes involved. The personal and the professional are woven together seamlessly for both Holly and Marconi, who in this case finds herself investigating a perplexing daylight shooting.
Web of Deceit came out in 2013 (reviewed here in NRB) and Howell used this book to explore the question of outcomes in particular.
Next up was Deserving Death in 2014 (reviewed here in NRB), which delved into the consequences of the job in a particularly searing manner, in that the victims in this book are paramedics and friends of the first responders. There’s also a short, sharp lesson about the pain and difficulties of coming out to family.
Which brings us to 2015 and the final (for now) book in the series, Tell the Truth. There’s a certain sense of hope in my use of ‘for now’, as it is true that Howell is not currently intending to produce any more books in the series, but she’s young, and there’s always hope for us fans.
This book takes paramedics’ involvement in crime scenes up a notch with the discovery of paramedic Stacey Durham’s blood-soaked car in a car park where her work partner would undoubtedly notice it. With no sign of a body, Marconi is not the only one who is worried. The amount of blood in the car surely means Stacey is either dead or very close to it. Here some first-hand knowledge of what this must look, smell and feel like is evident in the writing:
The car smelled like an unventilated butcher’s shop. The footwell carpet was soaked with blood, the cracked surface strewn with thick drying clots. Dried blood stained the front of the seat and spatters marked the centre console and the underside of the glove box. The roof lining was clean
The threatening text messages subsequently received by Stacey’s seemingly distraught husband James are cryptic and the only way Marconi and her partner are going to get to the bottom of this is by some hard, on-the-road fact-checking, plus interviewing and chasing down leads.
The connections that the police are following here are complicated and you might need to keep your eyes open to keep track of some of the multi-layered relationships. There are also plenty of red herrings in the mix, along with the complications caused by the work colleague who found Stacey’s car also sticking his nose into the investigation.
Meanwhile Stacey’s niece Paris is a trainee paramedic who is not coping with the job or with her aunt and friend missing:
Shame swamped her. She tried to look back at the car but the woman wouldn’t let her go. She pried the woman’s fingers off and tried to direct her grip onto the bystander, tried to get away without saying anything. She didn’t trust herself to speak, because what if she told her he wasn’t dead and then later he did die?
The sub-threads here, Paris, her passive-aggressive mother, and their differing relationships with Stacey and her husband, help to cast some light on this complex family and their interactions with the paramedics’ world. They also provide yet more complications that Marconi and her partner have to unravel on the way to the truth.
Given this is intended as the last book in the series, there is a lot of thread tying-off in Tell the Truth. There’s some resolution to many of the personal elements that have been rolling along in the background of Marconi’s personal life and fans of romantic suspense may find things in this book to make them very happy. Some readers will find themselves caught up in these elements, distracted enough to miss some of the clues and hints along the way.
Fans of the Marconi series are, in the main, going to be divided by this book: happy that Tell the Truth is the eighth book in what has been a fabulous, and different, Australian crime fiction series, and sad to see it come to an end. For now.
Katherine Howell Tell the Truth: An Ella Marconi novel Pan Macmillan 2015 PB 336pp $29.99
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews as well as author biographies.
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