review: katherine howell, deserving death

Paramedics Carly Martens and Tessa Kimball are out working, hungover, bickering and frustrated with each other, when they get a call: attend to a collapsed woman in Sydenham. But the address sends shivers down Carly’s spine, and when they arrive, hearts racing, their worst fears are confirmed: their co-worker and friend, whose birthday they’d been out celebrating just the night before, is dead. She had been brutally assaulted, just like the paramedic who, weeks earlier, had died in the same circumstances.

Detective Ella Marconi takes the case, sensing a lot of tension in Carly and Tessa that spreads beyond them into the wider paramedic community. Carly and Ella have history together, unresolved when the solution to one crime meant the death of someone Carly had sworn to help. Still, Carly is invested in this case, wanting justice for her dead friend, and offers her help again, wanted or not. Both women have personal issues sitting heavily on their shoulders: Marconi is trying to sustain her relationship with a handsome doctor as the anniversary of his cousin’s death looms large; Carly is waiting to see if her girlfriend will be able to brave her family’s bigotry and disclose their relationship.

The investigation travels from paramedic offices to dancefloor creeps, and brings uneasy workplace relations to the fore; over the course of this tense book (“Just one more chapter,” I called to my partner as he went to bed, before I subsequently stayed up and finished the entire thing) there are more crimes simmering in the sometimes unhealthy cultures of Australia’s protective service officers.

While this book is good from a purely thrilling-read perspective, what highlighted it for me is the women; smart, capable, not willing to take crap or overlook situations in which other women are treated poorly. Carly doesn’t always make the best decisions in her attempts to help, but she always alerts someone about what she’s doing – standard fare in crime books is to do the opposite and get swiftly murdered – and I bought them completely as characters I believed in and wanted to succeed. Unexpectedly, I figured out the killer about halfway through the book, but conferring with (equally impressed) friends it seems they didn’t, and I’m an outlier, so I’ll just be proud and start applying for my detective badge immediately.