Paramedics are called to a domestic disturbance at the suburban home of Suzanne and Connor Crawford one night only to have the couple explain the incident away as nothing more than a disagreement and as there is only a very minor injury involved nothing further happens. The next evening Police and paramedics are again called to the address only this time Suzanne Crawford is dead and her husband is missing. Detective Ella Marconi, having recently finished up her work with the cold case squad, is assigned to the case and, with her partner, starts to focus on the missing husband as a suspect in his wife’s murder. They are hampered by not being able to discover much about the husband’s past and then they start to learn about some bizarre behaviour that Suzanne was engaging in prior to her death. Although a very focussed policewoman, usually to the detriment of her personal relationships, Ella is troubled here by her father’s health problems and there’s also a minor but thought-provoking thread involving the paramedics who were called to the Crawford house on the night of the murder.
In my view Katherine Howell has risen to the upper echelons of crime writing story tellers, having now produced four very accomplished tales which just keep getting better. In Violent Exposure she manages the multiple plot threads expertly, keeping each one flowing nicely and never dropping any along the way.The tension occurs at different points in each story line so from the first page to the last there is always something for the reader to wonder ‘what’s going to happen there?’about even as we’re moving on to another aspect of the book. This is definitely not one of those books where you can skim read chunks of it due to repetitive or filler content.
My favourite thing about this book, and Howell’s writing in general, is the way it balances telling stories about ordinary people with the need to make those stories more interesting than the average ordinary person’s life. I often talk about looking for realism in my reading and one way for writers to achieve this is for their characters to be ordinary people a bit like us (rather than the serial-killer-making-suits-from-human-skin characters that we all know don’t exist in the quantities that Hollywood would have us believe). But let’s face it most ordinary people’s lives are not filled with great drama and I think the fact that Howell has managed to create such credible suspense out of the lives of fairly average people shows real skill. This is in part achieved by putting her characters in situations where the morality of their actions isn’t clear cut. You might think for example that theft is always wrong but is there perhaps a situation where it might not be? What would you want the consequences to be for a person who does the wrong thing for a good reason? I enjoy these kinds of themes and think Howell plays with them brilliantly.
The characters in Violent Exposure are also drawn well and deeply, with Ella being the most complex and interesting, even if not always likeable. This description of Ella’s thought process early on in the case is a great indicator of the type of person she is
She was please to still feel the thrill in her blood, the exhilaration of being on a case that mattered. It wasn’t like she wanted people to die; it was just that as it was always going to happen, it was best it happened while she was on duty.
Here she is frustrated at the slow progress of the case and people’s unwillingness to help for what she considers unacceptable reason, worried about her father’s health and her own priorities. When Suzanne Crawford’s father starts calling her with messages from the ghost of his dead daughter it all looks like it might get a bit much for Ella but she’s not the only one experiencing problems. One of the paramedics who was at the Crawford house the night her body was found has an ongoing role in the story and his particularly sad personal problems cause him to do something he would normally consider wrong. Like Ella his decisions and actions are very credibly and sensitively portrayed.
In short then I really enjoyed this book. It’s fast-paced but thought-provoking too, has a cast of characters who are easy to believe and it’s even the right length. My only regret is that I’m now fully caught up with this series and it’s likely to be a while before Howell’s next book is published.
Earlier reviews of Katherine Howell’s books at Fair Dinkum Crime:
my rating 4.5/5
Publisher Pan Macmillan 
Length 312 pages
Format trade paperback
Source I bought it