Review: Blood Rose by Margie Orford

This is th 16th of 21 books I need to read to complete the extreme level of the global reading challenge and is also the second African book I’ve read for this challenge. Five books to go before I can claim an extreme reader title!

Clare Hart is a psychologist (I assume, it was never actually mentioned), film maker and profiler who sometimes works for the South African police. When that force is asked by police in neighbouring Namibia for assistance with a grizzly series of child murders Hart is heads to the port town of Walvis Bay to provide her expertise to the small Murder Unit led by a heavily pregnant Tamar Damases. The investigation is hampered by the fact that the murdered boys were all AIDS orphans or otherwise uncared for so gathering necessary information about their lives prior to their deaths proves difficult. The town’s leaders just want the case solved to avoid any damage to the fledgling tourist industry and don’t seem to care much about the identity of the culprit.

Blood Rose achieved a strong sense of its setting by quickly establishing the town’s unique geography as a small but strategically important port on the edge of a desert and its recent political history including its place as a battleground in the country’s war of independence with South Africa which only ended in the 1990’s. Focusing on AIDS orphans as a victim group added to the book’s strong sense of location if for no other reason than the understated reactions by most to the deaths of these children is in stark contrast to the media frenzy and community hysteria that tends to accompany crimes against children in other parts of the world. As a subtle form of social commentary this aspect of the novel really worked for me.

The rest of the book wasn’t quite as successful. The main reason for this is that the central character of Clare Hart didn’t have the air of authenticity needed. She never did a single thing that marked her out as a profiler and any activities she did engage in could just as easily, and probably more believably, have been done by an ordinary police officer. If you’re going to use an unorthodox type of job like a profiler at the heart of crime fiction I think you have to give them a bit more than a vaguely troublesome back story (something to do with Clare’s twin sister that may have been explained in more detail in the series’ first book, Like Clockwork, which I haven’t read) and a very occasional flash of inspiration. For me the book would have worked better if it had used Tamar Damases as its focal point although I appreciate that would not offer as many opportunities for the long-running series I presume Orford is aiming at. Damases however was believable as a regular police officer and had some depth to her as she embarks on life as a single mother to not only her new baby but also the children of her dead sister. Even Hart’s love-interest in the novel, a South African police Captain called Riedwaan Faizal, was more believable and probably would have made a better central character.

The story at the heart of Blood Rose was perfectly serviceable but I didn’t feel it offered anything terribly original in this crowded genre and at times it bordered on confusing. The main plot seemed to get lost in a jumble of sub-plots and vagueness at a couple of points. It felt a little like a couple of the red-herrings had been shoe-horned into the story after everything else had been written rather than having developed naturally. However the resolution was an unpredictable and satisfactory one and my quibbles about the plot probably have a fair bit to do with the fact I didn’t understand why a supposed profiler was involved with such non-profiling activities.

I did enjoy Blood Rose‘s strong sense of its location but I haven’t yet decided if that is enough to keep me coming back to this series for more.  Although I really did struggle to buy into Clare Hart as a protagonist I found the writing decent and I’d be keen to read something else by this author that focuses on different characters.

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My rating 3/5

Publisher Atlantic Books [This edition 2010, original edition 2007]; ISBN 9781843549444; Length 352 pages

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14 Responses to Review: Blood Rose by Margie Orford

  1. kathy durkin says:

    This is definitely an in-depth review. I think, on the basis of this mixed review, that I
    still want to try to read this book. There is enough in the sense of place and issues concerning AIDS in children that makes me want to read it, even if there are weaknesses concerning the main character. I can always add it to the DNF pile if needed, but I think I’ll get enough out of it to read it, if I can find it in the library. I definitely need to read more books from this region of the world for my own education (and my informal goal of completing a basic global challenge). Thanks for your thoughtful review.

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  2. Bernadette – Thanks for this thoughtful review. I love novels with a good sense of place, too, so I understand exactly what you mean about this one’s placement. I’m thinking I may read it, even though the main character wasn’t as rich and, well, unique as you’d have liked.

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  3. Mason Canyon says:

    Enjoyed your review. The book does sound interesting. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  4. Maxine says:

    I had a fairly similar reaction to the first novel in this series, Like Clockwork. The Clare character seems to be an expert in several fields but convinces at none of them! There is a bit of back-story about the sister in the first novel. My reaction to Like Clockwork was that the subject chosen was (like the book you review) a harrowing one, but having read it I did not feel that the book stands out in any particular way, and the main plot (identity and rationale of baddy, etc) was obvious and clunky, similarly the “woman in peril” denouement/location whas heavily over-signalled in advance. I was not sure what to make of the police guy. I liked the contrast between people like Clare who live in gated communities with tons of locks, maids – she never actually cooked a mean but always ordered in, etc; and everyone else who kind of roamed the streets in poverty/envy. But I can’t say that much of it sticks in my mind, and it does not seem from what you write as if Clare has got any more convincing as a character.

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  5. Maxine says:

    BTW, the police character in Like Clockwork is a man with whom Clare has had, or is having, a relationship but he’s very mixed towards here and his superiors, which I found a bit confusing (perhaps I was not concentrating hard enough). I think the pregnant cop you write about here must be a new character.

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  6. @Kathy I do think it’s worth giving a go, especially if you can get it from a library which is where I managed to get my copy from – or you may want to start with the first book in the series which might make some things about Clare’s back story clearer.

    @Maxine the pregnant police woman is I think a new character to this book but both Clare’s love interest (another cop) and some bloke she meets up with in Namibia who seem to be a former love interest and possibly a former cop (though I’m not really sure) were, I think, in the previous book. But the fact I don’t know probably explains a bit about what I found not quite compelling about the book – there were lots of sub texts that the reader seemed either expected to know already or to just blindly accept and I find both of those things a bit annoying.

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  7. Jose Ignacio says:

    Thanks for your review Bernadette. I was willing to give another chance to Margie Orford after having read Like Clockwork. Now I don’t think it is worthwhile at least with this book, and there are many other interesting books around.

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  8. Maxine says:

    Thanks, Bernadette! If it helps, here’s my review of the first novel:
    http://petrona.typepad.com/petrona/2010/01/alphabet-in-crime-fiction-orford.html

    I am not sure whether I’ll read more by her – serious themes but for me a book has to be pretty good to go through all the agony…..

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  9. Dorte H says:

    I considered Margie Orford for the global challenge, but I am happy that I ordered one by Deon Meyer as my second read the other day.

    And don´t worry, Bernadette. Title or not, I *do* consider you an extreme reader 😉

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  10. kathy durkin says:

    I’m going to sneak this comment in here so as not to interject into the discussion of Mankell’s book. At least this is a discussion of a book placed in South Africa.

    I am finishing up “Thirteen Hours,” and agree about Deon Meyer’s writing what your reviews say. I was going to try to move to books from Asia and Latin so I can complete my own informal global reading challenge. BUT now I’m hooked and have to read more by Meyer before I move on. (And now I want to read “A Carrion Death,” by Michael Stanley, Malla Nunn’s books and Margie Orford’s books.)

    Before I move on even to those authors, I must read more by Meyer. I see that you highly recommend some of his other books. What do you suggest I read now?

    And I am going to go out on a limb and say, that I do think that “Hypothermia,” should have won the Dagger, and that “The Darkest Room,” and “Thirteen Hours,” tie for me at second place; Meyer’s book may even edge out Theorin’s. That isn’t to say that Theorin’s isn’t well-written. It is but I’m not a fan of ghost stories or stories bringing up the distant past, although Theorin’s understanding of family attachments and grief is quite good. But Meyer can write a thriller! And he also can develop characters and make them human.

    So my Scandinavian Book Challenge which I’ve completed now makes way for my Southern Africa Book Challenge.

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  11. kathy durkin says:

    Errata: In my comment above, line three is about books from Asia and Latin America.

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  12. Kathy I don’t think it would matter which Meyer you read next – I seem to have read them out of order but they’re none of them strictly in a series – they might have one or two characters that cross over but you seem to be able to read them in whatever order you like – I’ve really enjoyed Devil’s Peak and Dead at Daybreak as well as Thirteen Hours and I think I have 3 more of this to find and read too.

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