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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bleed for Me, by Michael Robotham (hardcover, $25.99)

There are some authors -- good authors -- whose works make me stop every page or two to assess how much I've read and how much further I have to go. Sigh. With Michael Robotham, I can have read fifty pages, a hundred pages, without noticing. His words move swiftly along.

Robotham is one of those amazing authors who can juggle a panoply of characters. He might feature psychologist Joe O'Loughlin in one book, retired detective Vincent Ruiz in another, and give voice to a young female Sikh detective in a third. Most of them run around in the same crowd and bump into each other in the various books. Robotham states that Ruiz, however, is the only one to have appeared in all his books.

Yes, Robotham's books are thrillers -- the pace certainly justifies the use of that term -- but he also delves into his characters' lives, emotions, and fears brilliantly. Bleed for Me is not just about finding a killer; it's also a look into the psyche of a once distinguished, arrogant, vain man who has fallen from his pedestal and is being humbled by degrees.

This time around Joe O'Loughlin takes the main stage. It is his first person, present tense narrative that drives the book, although Ruiz pops in to lend a hand when Joe runs into trouble.

To set the stage: Joe and his wife are separated, living in a small town near Bath, England, and sharing custody and the privilege of taking care of their two daughters, one of whom, Charlie, is a teenager and knows how to push Joe's buttons. Charlie's best friend, Sienna, shows up at Charlie's home one night covered in blood. Her father has been murdered and Sienna is suspected of the crime.

What begins as the response of a caring parent and responsible psychologist to help Sienna remember the events of the night her father was murdered winds up as the story of a man possessed and obsessed with achieving justice for Sienna, safety for Charlie, and a semblance of a normal life.

Joe's life is complicated by his diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. He has not learned how to forgive himself for becoming a victim of the disease. He cannot understand why his wife wants a divorce. He cannot move past his own concerns to see how his actions affect his family. His priorities are put to a test in this book.

Sometimes on the right side of the law, helping DCI Veronica Cray, for instance, and sometimes on the outside, Joe lurches forward with what increasingly becomes his private investigation. It's a good thing he has Ruiz to rein him in, although Joe manages to get hauled into police headquarters several times anyway.

Robotham's wryness frequently shines through:
They must have called her at home. Woken her. There are some supermodels who won't get out of bed for less than ten thousand pounds. DCI Cray doesn't stir unless someone is dead, defiled or missing.
Here's more about DCI Cray:
Lighting another cigarette, she sucks hard into her lungs as if concerned that fresh air without tobacco smoke might damage her health.
Ruiz's solid, bull-headed approach towards solving crime is a nice counterpoint to Joe's more analytical one. Joe can "read" people's mannerisms, tics, and gestures to tell if they are lying or, à la Sherlock Holmes, what they are thinking. Ruiz knows how to work the system, and can be blunt and physically intimidating. Teamwork at its finest. But this story is definitely Joe's, with Ruiz along for the ride.

My favorite Robotham is Night Ferry, with the young Sikh detective as the narrator. Ruiz' stories are a close second, and trailing both are Joe's. It's Joe's arrogant tone -- much quieter by the end of the book -- that made him third. However, I have enjoyed all the books, unequivocally. Robotham's writing is topnotch, his stories are page-turners, and I really want to find out what happens next with his cast of regulars. What more could a reader ask for?

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