Web of Deceit, the sixth book by ex-paramedic Katherine Howell featuring Detective Ella Marconi, continues to build a solid, clever police-procedural series with an ongoing paramedic viewpoint, an element that seems even stronger in this book.
In Web of Deceit paramedics Jane and Alex go from a relatively run-of-the-mill car accident – apart from involving a deliberate crash into a pole – with a driver who’s clearly terrified, perhaps paranoid, to a possible suicide under a train later the same day. It’s the same man, and there’s something about the way he looked and behaved at the accident scene that makes Jane, in particular, doubt it’s a straightforward suicide. Initially Ella Marconi shares that doubt, a feeling that is compounded as the case becomes increasingly tangled; the victim’s boss also tries to commit suicide, a witness flees and a woman is beaten unconscious in front of Jane’s house.
The success of the formula Howell has developed lies in her use of multiple viewpoints. In the earlier books in the series the paramedic’s attitude to a crime or accident scene was starkly different from that of the investigation team, creating an experience for the reader that was both instructive and moving. It gave a particularly poignant insight into the victims and those suffering at the heart of crime, which isn’t always possible when the total focus is on investigation and resolution. Likewise in Web of Deceit – the action doesn’t come just from the scene of the crime, the book is also about outcomes: the consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the various elements of the job that leak into, and pollute, emergency workers’ daily lives.
The lesson in outcomes, however, is balanced elegantly with an investigation which weaves its way into the stories of Detective Ella Marconi and paramedics Alex and Jane in particular. There’s obviously more to the death of the scared man who crashed his car before falling under a train and all the things that are going wrong in everyone’s lives, but, for the life of me, I didn’t make the connection until we were way down a very twisty and dark path. Making connections, and working out the plot direction, would be easier if you weren’t so busily turning pages, powering your way through events; if you weren’t distracted by the boyfriends, daughters, ex-wives, current wives and kids in extremis who work their way into this team’s daily lives – and this complexity is one of the great strengths of Web of Deceit. All is not automatically as it seems, the hero(in)es aren’t perfect, the relationships are tricky and the unsupportive boss may be an idiot, or he may have a point. Readers are allowed to decide for themselves.
Katherine Howell’s first book, Frantic, arrived full of promise and every single book in the Ella Marconi series since has delivered on that promise, and upped the expectations a little bit more. Web of Deceit reminds me, yet again, how good the best Australian crime fiction has become.
Katherine Howell Web of Deceit, Pan Macmillan, 2013, PB, 368pp, $29.99
Karen Chisholm reads a lot of crime fiction, when she’s not wandering around the farmyard after pet alpacas, pigs, poultry, cats and dogs. http://www.austcrimefiction.org is where she posts book reviews, author and book bios, and whatever else seems like a good idea at 2.30am.
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