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Precious Blood by Jonathan Hayes
Review by Gayle Surrette
Harper Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060736675
Date: 01 November 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview: Jonathan Hayes / Show Official Info /

In Precious Blood, we follow in the steps of Edward Jenner as he tries to gather evidence, protect a witness to a murder, avoid a medical examiner out to destroy his life, maintain a friendship with neighbors, and identify what is important in his life. And, as usual in a mystery, it all begins with a murder and a mid-night call from bereaved parents asking Jenner to step in as their forensic pathologist with the police.

Edward Jenner once worked as a medical examiner, but after 9/11, he had difficulty focusing on the job. Steve Whittaker, deputy chief medical examiner, made sure that Jenner would be unlikely to come back. Whittaker is very unhappy to find that Jenner has been hired by the victim's parents to verify that the forensic evidence regarding their daughter's murder is being handled correctly. He makes sure that he follows the letter of cooperation but not the spirit. When Jenner finds that Whittaker missed essential information, he sets up another person to take credit for finding and documenting the new information. Jenner may have been away from the politics of the job for a while but he knows that he can't push Whittaker.

The real problems don't start until Jenner arrives at his apartment to find that the victim's roommate, Ana de Jong, happens to be the niece of Jenner good friend and downstairs neighbor, Doug. Ana is terrified, having just escaped from the apartment. She insists that the murderer is a police officer and doesn't trust anyone. Jenner convinces her to talk to an officer he knows and trusts.

Slowly Jenner finds himself getting more and more involved in the case and more involved with Ana. The murder of Ana's roommate had all the hallmarks of a serial killer but there'd been no other cases reported in the city and it was too elaborate for a first timer. Each step of the way, Whittaker is setting up barriers to keep Jenner from becoming involved while missing key pieces of information himself.

This purposeful hindrance is key in making Jenner likable to the reader – or at least this reader. There was much to like about him but something seemed off. As the reader is filled in on the back-story and as you watch him trying desperately to do the right thing – to find the killer – in spite of all the obstacles thrown into his path, you begin to re-evaluate and cheer him on in his pursuit. Jenner is a man who was pushed to his limits and beyond and has spent time trying to redefine himself. In Precious Blood, he learns that he still has a long way to go. But his passion for justice aided by personal involvement adds an extra incentive to succeed.

The characters were fully developed and engaging. They had a depth and texture that let you become involved in their story. It wasn't hard to let go and simply sink into the story – the writing was clear and clean and allowed the reader to engage with the characters and plot. It wasn't long after starting the book that I found myself wanting to just read one more page and one more after that because I felt like something might happen if I put the book down and I'd miss it.

Hayes did a marvelous job too of allowing us occasionally into the killers mind. This can be very disconcerting to readers because most of us want to relate to the hero or protagonist, not the killer. But some events had to be told from the killers point of view as the victims would be too much to handle. We didn't learn much about the killer in these scenes from his point of view, but we did learn some of what drove the character to do what he did.

While dark and noirish in many ways, the detail was just light enough to allow someone who wants to go a bit darker in their mysteries, without finding themselves in the midst of a blood-bath, to give it a try. However I find, even when the descriptions are light, my imagination can do a wonderfully cruel job of filling in what was left out, much to the surprise and distress of the part of me who'd rather be left in the dark. But, I read dark, darker, and darkest as well as light and cozy – so take my recommendation of this being at the lighter end of dark with a shaker of salt. For those of you who like your mysteries dark, dive in.

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