For the sixth book in the Aussie Authors challenge for this year I chose the audio book of Michael Robotham’s latest Joe O’Loughlin novel
Former policeman Ray Hegarty is dead and his 14-year old daughter Sienna is accused of his murder. Joe O’Loughlin is a psychologist who has previously worked with police and because Sienna is his daughter’s best friend he is drawn into this case too. While Joe believes Sienna is innocent and tenaciously investigates other people in and around the Hegarty family to see who else might have had a motive for murder, the Police generally accept that their former colleague was killed by his daughter. At the same three men are being tried for a hideous race hate crime and it seems as if the two cases might ultimately converge.
In the several earlier books in this series I have adored Joe O’Loughlin, imperfections and all. In my review of Shatter I wrote of Joe
Each time I meet him I find something else to love. Unlike many of the protagonists in crime fiction Joe is not a troubled loner nor does he have any super human abilities. Even his skills in reading people, which he is mostly very good at, let him down some times. He’s smart, funny and heart-wrenchingly self aware. I particularly like the way Joe deals with the personal issues in his life in a very realistic way. He’s not always sensible (who is?) but nor does he go to the extremes that you see in some fiction that make you wonder how the person could possibly have survived adolescence.
It seemed to me that almost none of that applied to Joe in this book. He has now been separated from his wife for two years and is enduring the increasingly difficult manifestations of his Parkinson’s disease which has, kind of, turned him into something of the troubled loner after all. At times I found him bordering on creepy, such as when he sat outside his family’s home watching their shadows behind the curtains. Ick! There is a not so fine line between love and stalking. At one point he resorts to extreme violence against another man and although he was provoked it was all very banal and meant that Joe didn’t bear much resemblance to the intriguing, thought-provoking character that he had been in the past and reading about his exploits this time around was a bit like being disappointed when a family member goes off the rails.
The rest of the characters were fairly standard fare, though Joe’s nearly ex-wife Julianne was more sensitively depicted than had been the case in past novels and we did get to see from her perspective how difficult Joe must be to live with. Of the new characters to this book I didn’t find any of them terribly compelling I’m afraid. There just didn’t seem to be anything new said here about a bloke who was teased as a kid becoming a paedophile and I think I have reached my quota of unstable divorcées becoming clingy when a new chap looks at them sideways. The bright spot for me was a very brief appearance by an older couple whose daughter had been missing, presumed dead, for several years. For me this was a glimpse into the kind of thoughtful characterisations that I’ve enjoyed from Robotham in the past.
As was the case for me with Shatter and The Night Ferry I struggled to stay interested in the story too. It dragged a bit, especially in the first half (and I am generally far more forgiving of stories in audio format). We spent too much time inside Joe’s head as he reviewed and picked over almost every conversation he’d had and there was a lot of recounting of events which were quite predictable the first time round and did not improve on repetition. There also seemed to be a few too many plot elements that were not explored in any depth and therefore added nothing to the whole. The inclusion of a really brutal description of an animal’s death for example served no purpose other than to add gore and cruelty.
Although there was just enough to keep me listening, thanks in part to Sean Barrett’s sensitive narration, ultimately neither the story nor its characters ever succeeded in really hooking me in. It felt to me a little too much like the author was checking off a list of elements that the modern psychological thriller ought to have without giving much meaning to any of them. Overall I found it too formulaic and shallow to truly engage me.
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My rating 2/5
Narrator Sean Barrett; Publisher Hachette Audio ; ISBN N/A (downloaded from audible); Length 11 hours 45 minutes
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As always the review is one person’s opinion, others have loved this book so check out their thoughts too. Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise tells us the book kept her reading in a single sitting and Craig Sisterson’s review in the Nelson Mail says the book was compelling.
On the other hand Karen at Aust Crime Fiction also had problems with the gratiutious animal violence and I found one reviewer who thought that some of the problems I identified might not have been noticeable to someone who had read all of the previous books in this series but, alas, this was not true for me.