Dear judgemental waitress who served me a few days ago,
I suppose you thought the fact that I sat at one of your café’s tables to read a good portion of this book gave you the right to criticise my choice of reading material. But I did buy two large coffees and a sandwich, and for all but a few minutes I was your only customer. So I’m not sure you earned the right to offer that snarky “Why waste your time with that junk when there are so many proper books to read?” as you cleared my table. On top of which, you’ve no bloody clue what you’re talking about.
Katherine Howell’s latest novel, DESERVING DEATH, is as proper a novel as you could hope to read. In unravelling the story behind the murder of two Sydney paramedics it explores a myriad of social issues with a sensitivity that most authors could only dream of. Added to that it’s a ripper yarn. And the whole package is delivered in a delightfully concise 300 pages.
It is a pair of female paramedics, Carly Martens and Tessa Kimball, who are called to an address they know in the first few pages of DESERVING DEATH. Sadly they discover the body of a colleague and friend who has been brutally murdered in a similar fashion to another paramedic killed a month earlier. Detective Ella Marconi and her partner Murray Shakespeare, familiar to series regulars, are assigned to the case. Carly, deeply troubled by her friend’s death, seems determined to play a role in the investigation too. In classic whodunit style there are several false leads followed before the culprit is revealed.
While the plot is probably enough to keep most readers well and truly gripped DESERVING DEATH does offer a lot more. I was particularly struck by variety of topical human relationship issues the book explored. We see, for example, the complex mix of emotions experienced by Carly and her girlfriend, one of whom is fearful of her family’s reaction to the news she is gay while the other tries to cope with the fact that her part in her girlfriend’s life is a secret. Tessa’s life meanwhile offers an unexpectedly tear-inducing heartache as she struggles to deal with her alcoholic mother – so mentally and physically broken that even as she’s lying in a pool of her own urine she alternates between beseeching and castigating her daughter in her desperate attempts to gain access to more alcohol. Tessa’s behaviour in response to this onslaught might not always be admirable but it is completely realistic and very engaging (in a ‘good grief my problems aren’t that bad after all’ kind of way). And most series fans will, I’m sure, be as thrilled as I was I’m sure to learn that Ella’s love life has taken a turn for the better here but the couple struggle to maintain a healthy relationship when family baggage threatens to drive a wedge between them.
And so, judgemental waitress, while I don’t think I should have to justify my reading choices to you or anyone else, I think you should know that your mother was right – you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (I’ve no clue how else you could have developed your ill-informed opinion). DESERVING DEATH is a book anyone would be lucky to read. At least one of its myriad relationship issues would be relevant to most readers, its depiction of the life and work of paramedics and police officers is insightful and it is a bloody good yarn.
That passes all my benchmarks for a proper book and you should keep your ill-informed opinions to yourself.
A happy reader and former customer
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I’ve reviewed all but the first published of Katherine Howell’s previous novels
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Publisher Pan Macmillan Australia 
Length 303 pages
Book Series #7 in the Ella Marconi series
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