There have been a few five star reviews appearing for Belinda Bauer’s latest book, Rubbernecker, so I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve read a couple of Bauer’s earlier books, and although I enjoyed the style of writing, I felt let down by the endings. This book however, is my first five star read of the year and in my opinion deserving of every plaudit it has received. It’s an unusual and unsettling read, but like many great crime novels, stayed with me for a while afterwards.
The central character in the novel is Patrick, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. His father died when he was a child, knocked down in a hit and run accident, and ever since Patrick has been obsessed with what happens when things die. He enrols on an anatomy course at Cardiff University and tutors make it clear that he has only been accepted in order to meet their disability quota. However, Patrick becomes obsessed with the cause of death of the man he and other students are dissecting, and becomes convinced that a murder has taken place.
Although the narrative of Patrick plays an important role in the book, there are a number of scenes set on a neurological ward, where patients who are lying in deep comas are attended to with varying degrees of care. We see the world from the point of view of a patient in a coma and also two of the nurses caring for their charges. The connection between these scenes and the narrative of Patrick is at first confusing but gradually the strands are woven together. There is a strong sense of menace that pervades the ward, from the frustration and fear felt by the helpless patients to the casual neglect meted out by the self-centred nurse, Tracy.
Patrick is the star of the book. Unintentionally funny, he embarks on the journey to prove that the corpse he is studying was murdered, with a disregard for the niceties of convention. He is very well portrayed although perhaps his relationship with fellow students seems a little unreal. Aspeger’s Syndrome is a well recognised condition and I can’t see how both staff and students wouldn’t make more allowance for him as his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. However it does allow the plot to become more and more surreal as Patrick tries desperate measures to prove to his fellow students, the victim’s family and the police that there is a murderer at large.
As I’ve come to expect from Bauer this was an engrossing read but I hadn’t anticipated how poignant the book would feel and the sense of completeness you get at the end of the novel. So many crime novels are let down by their endings, so it was a real treat to feel satisfied by the conclusion.