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.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Publisher Atlantic Books [This edition 2010, original edition 2007]; ISBN 9781843549444; ; Length 352 pages
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦