I’ve been known to lament the degradation in quality of long running series as authors (and editors and publishers and all the rest) become complacent in the knowledge that people will buy a book with a well-known name on the cover regardless of the quality of the content. So it is only fair I am equally vocal when a series gets better as it goes along as is the case with Kathryn Fox’s series featuring forensic pathologist Anya Crichton. FATAL IMPACT is the seventh book of the series and any kinks from the earlier books are well and truly ironed out, while all the elements I’ve liked before have been kicked up a notch.
Fox deliberately uses the tropes of the genre to explore different topical socio-political issues in her novels having previously dealt with such thorny topics as the culture and attitude towards sexual assault and violence in sporting teams and the difficulties the legal system has in achieving anything like justice for some victims of crime (or victims of particular crimes). Here she takes Anya to Tasmania (where we learn Anya grew up) which is the perfect setting to take a look at the issue of food. Can we grow enough to feed us all? Is genetic modification the answer? What restrictions should we place on foreign countries owning our arable land and exporting any produce?
But I don’t for a moment mean to suggest the book reads like an environmentalist’s lecture. It is from the outset a romp of a tale that fits somewhere between procedural and thriller on the genre scale and it would only be the most jaded of readers who would remain un-hooked. As the book opens Anya is asked by a concerned woman to investigate a troubling situation. One of the woman’s grandchildren has died previously and her daughter and remaining grandchildren are now living ‘off the grid’ in some kind of community with which communication is difficult. When Anya visits the home with other authorities she finds one child dead and her mother and other daughter missing. It is soon determined that the child died from food poisoning and there are other cases breaking out elsewhere in the state. As Anya waits to find out the source of the contamination she visits her mother whom she finds in an unnaturally, though possibly warranted, paranoid state. After all she’s surrounded by corrupt politicians, organic farmers fighting Monsanto-like corporations and local communities so desperate for jobs and economic prosperity they turn a blind eye to things that might otherwise alarm them.
It takes real skill to produce a ripper of a yarn that is at the same time thought-provoking. To additionally depict more than one view of a complex issue is even more rare and I applaud Fox for pulling it off. She does so mainly through depicting her central protagonist as not being completely informed about food politics at the outset of the book and allowing her to meet various experts and opinion-holders on both sides of the fence. As the novel progresses she draws her own conclusions based on the facts and information she collects (a radical concept in this age of shock-jock spouted mumbo-jumbo masquerading as knowledge).
To round out this highly satisfying reading experience there are an interesting cast of characters including Anya’s eccentric mother, with whom she has obviously had a strained relationship that gets tested almost to breaking point here, and an intelligent internal affairs policeman who is called upon to investigate the local coppers.
As should be obvious at this point I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it highly. It is full of surprises, never lets up its frenetic pace, provides much food for thought (pun intended) and is entirely able to be read without any prior knowledge of the series. What are you waiting for?
Publisher: Pan Macmillan 
Length: 389 pages
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