Review: IN HER BLOOD by Annie Hauxwell

Annie Hauxwell’s debut novel achieves an interesting mixture of the genre’s familiar tropes alongside new themes and ideas and this is perhaps best demonstrated with the book’s protagonist, Catherine Berlin. Like so many of her crime fiction colleagues Berlin is flawed but not in a way I have come across before. She works for a London-based financial regulator and as the book opens she has met several times with a confidential informant who has provided anecdotal evidence that a man called Doyle is operating as a loan shark. Before she can convince her boss that the case is worth the Agency’s time the informant’s body is pulled from the Thames. To make matters far worse for Berlin there is another, seemingly unconnected murder, of a London doctor. Berlin’s connection to him is that he provided her with the daily dose of heroin she, a registered addict, cannot live without. With only 7 doses left Berlin desperately teams up with dodgy coppers and other nefarious types with the ultimate goal of finding another, regular source of her drug of choice. Preferably a legal one.

Berlin is not an easy character to like but I found her very compelling. She is brusque in her manner and unwilling or unable to play office politics so has few friends in her workplace. But she is intelligent and wants to uncover the truth in the two investigations even though she worries that something she did or said led to her informant’s death. Of course she must balance this desire to work out what happened with her need to secure another source of her drug and Hauxwell does a good job of always leaving the reader wondering just how far Berlin will go to that end. It was hard not to respect Berlin in the way she refused to buckle under to the conventional wisdom of how she should deal with her addiction. She believed she had her addiction under control and as it was only when her legal supply dried up that she turned to desperate measures her point was, I suppose, proven, though I’ll admit my liking for this particular aspect of the book may stem from my personal beliefs (that all drugs should be legalised*).

The plot here is quite complicated and at a couple of points I thought the book might be going to spiral into totally unbelievable territory but in the end it was held together well and the various crimes were shown to have quite prosaic roots, as most crimes do. Along the way readers are treated to a great pool of potential suspects which includes crooked cops, London gangsters and a few family members. I particularly enjoyed the parallels Hauxwell manages to draw between old-fashioned London loan sharks and the more recent near-criminal activity that resulted in the global financial crisis.

IN HER BLOOD is fast-paced, taking place across the seven days of Berlin’s drug supply, and satisfyingly complex. Its cast of characters are for the most part shades of grey rather than the black and white good guys and bad guys of a traditional mystery but their exploits are realistically depicted and Berlin in particular demands your attention if not a warm emotional connection. Overall I found this an engaging book that offered something new and I’ll be keen to read whatever the author releases next.


*I don’t for a moment think that heroin or similarly ‘hard’ drugs are harmless but I see no evidence that them being illegal makes the world a better or safer place for anyone. It certainly doesn’t stop people using them. I could bang on about this particular subject for hours but this is not the place.

Annie Haxwell was born in England and emigrated to Australia as a teenager with her family. She has worked in the law, as an investigator and as a screenwriter and lives in Castlemaine, Victoria.

I’m counting this as the 8th book towards the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2012


My rating: 3.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Michael Joseph [2012]
ISBN: 9781921901171
Length: 261 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the publisher for review
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

13 thoughts on “Review: IN HER BLOOD by Annie Hauxwell

  1. Bernadette – What an interesting protagonist. Certainly a different take on the “flawed sleuth” and I always appreciate innovation. And the plot sounds well-structured even if a little complicated in places. Oh, and your review is, as ever, excellent 🙂

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  2. Sounds good. I am wondering, with the UK connection, whether this book might actually be available here! On the basis of your review & liking books about stroppy (!) aka independent women, I’m off to check this out forthwith.

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  3. Just checked, according to Amazon it is published in the UK on 24 May, but the price is £9 for a paperback which is steep for here (probably not there, though). I am going to see if the library is getting it. Incidentally, Amazon thinks that it “goes with” Antonio Hill’s The Summer of Lost Toys (which I enjoyed, it is reviewed at Euro Crime today, I have also reviewed it for Euro Crime but my review isn’t out yet) — presumably because of the drugs connection if Amazon’s semantic matching is that clever 😉

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    • Hi Maxine
      Let me know if you still haven’t managed to get your hands on IN HER BLOOD and I’ll send you a copy (I’m in London at the moment).
      Cheers
      Annie
      PS I think nine quid is a bit steep too!

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  4. If you could suggest five or so Aussie women’s books, I’d appreciate it. I know of Katherine Howell, thanks to you, Sulari Gentil, also thanks to you, Nicole Watson, Yvette Erskine, and the love of my Melbourne reading, Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman. (I have to pace those books out.) I am going to order Death Mask by Kathryn Fox from Abe Books.
    How are the earlier books by Fox and Howell? Fox’s are at the library, Howell’s are at Abe Books–the early ones. I just ordered Felicity Young’s new historical mystery for a friend who both loves historical mysteries, and was a nurse-practitioner for decades, so women doctors, EMS workers and coroners are right up her alley. (That friend loves Phrynne Fisher, written by Greenwood.)
    I’m going to loan her the Howell, and she will like them as EMT workers are involved, and a woman cop.
    I think I’ll order the one from Book Depository about the 80-year-old woman, that you gave a good review to.
    IF there are some other ideas of books I can quickly (and somewhat reasonablly buy), please let me know and I’ll look around. (I may also get the friend Carolyn Morrow’s book about the Spanish flu in Australia.) I may read that, too, as I’m a bit hooked into historical fiction after reading Ariana Franklin and Paula Marantz Cohen’s book based on the James’ family of intellectuals and writers.

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    • It’s so hard for us to know what is easily available for overseas readers Kathy but other than the excellent suggestions you have already I can suggest

      Angela Savage – Behind the Night Bazaar (she is Australian as is her main character but the book is set in Thailand)

      P M Newton’s The Old School – is about a Vietnamese/Australia cop in Sydney – it’s excellent (PM is Pam)

      One of my favourite Aussie crime writers is Jennifer Rowe – she has basically switched to chidlrens books now but she wrote a good series in the late 80’s early 90’s featuring an amateur sleuth called Verity Birdwood – the best of these is i think Grim Pickings – a kind of country house mystery set in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney – these might be easier to get as they are older and in fact I picked up some of these via the bookswapping site called bookmooch and all were from American readers

      I’m also a huge fan of Leah Giarratano’s Jill Jackson series which starts with Vodka Doesn’t Freeze – it’s probably got more violence in it than a lot of what I read but not gratuitous I hope – her bad guy characters are seriously creepy.

      I didn’t keep great notes until fairly recently but I don’t recall any of Fox or Howell’s books being bad – though with Hiowell especially I think she has just gotten better and better.

      I hope you enjoy The Precipice which is the one about the 80 year old woman – I am just on my way to the bookshop to pick up a copy I have ordered for a friend – it is one of those books I think I will buy several times and give as gifts.

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  5. Thank you for taking the time during your move to write down these suggestions. They all look good.
    I am now reading The Boundary by Nicole Watson. i find it hard to read, but feel the indignation and anger expressed by the Indigenous characters. It is interesting, and I’m learning more than I knew about the discrimination and racism against Indigenous communities in Australia.
    All of this has been said and is still a huge issue in the States and I appreciate learning about the reality for the Indigenous in Australia. I have a lot of respect for Watson for “telling it like it is” in this book and will look for further works by her. (Reread your good review, too.)

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