A Hard Death: A Novel
by Jonathan Hayes
Review by Steve Sawicki
Harper Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061691768
Date: 12 April 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Edward Jenner has made it out of New York, the setting of the first book (Precious Blood), and finds himself in Douglas County which is in coastal Florida. He's there due to the intervention of a professional colleague and friend to fill in as medical examiner. It is darkly ironic that one of the bodies he must work on is that of the man who invited him to Florida to begin with, his mentor and friend, found in a submerged car with the body of his wife stuffed in the trunk. While Jenner is coping with this he gets an anonymous call in the middle of the night about dangerous happenings on an island in the middle of the swamp. When he gets there what he finds is gruesome and horrific. Then, Jenner gets involved with a somewhat dysfunctional, rich girl, daughter of a local millionaire and things just get stranger. Finally, when his past catches up with him in the guise of a trashy investigative reporter he is faced with some hard decisions. Stay in a place where no one knows him and fewer like him or cut and run and make everyone's life easier. The solution is both surprising and unconventional.
This is Jonathan Hayes second novel and it continues to follow Edward Jenner, disgraced New York City pathologist. You do not have to have read the first book to get this one although it probably would not hurt. I did not and had no trouble keeping pace. And what a pace it is. Hayes throws one thing after another at his protagonist. If it's not crime, then it's women issues and if it's not that it's personal. None of the issues facing Jenner are small. There are plenty of twists and Jenner occasionally takes the path he should not which makes things interesting and keeps them somewhat unpredictable. The book is well crafted and,since Hayes is a forensic pathologist himself, authentic.
When an author packs as much action into a book as Hayes does here there can be a tendency for the reader to rebel from unrealism. However, if the author is crafty and skillful it can be pulled off without much notice so long as the plot and the reader are served. That's certainly the case here, when Haye's protagonist is hit with just one thing after the other. Part of this is due to Hayes skill as a writer and his ability to merge story with craft and part of it is with the writer knowing where the reader is willing to suspend some belief for the sake of entertainment.
All in all this book is definitely worth the read and Hayes seems to be destined for a long career. I'll certainly be looking for more of his work in the future. Recommended.