Book review: Cold Justice by Katherine Howell

Cold Justice by Katherine Howell
UK publisher Pan Macmillan, July 2011.
First published in Australia, 2010 (Pan Macmillan).

Having very much enjoyed the author’s previous novel, The Darkest Hour, I was looking forward to Cold Justice, and I was not disappointed. The structure of the books is similar, each concerning a police investigation led by Ella Marconi as well as a stand-alone story about the paramedics of Sydney’s ambulance service. In Cold Justice, the investigation that is assigned to Ella is an old case, the unsolved murder of a schoolboy 19 years ago. The boy’s cousin is now a leading politician and has used his clout to force a re-opening of the case. Ella is a professional, enthusiastic and dogged detective, so soon begins to create some new leads from her reading of the case history and re-interviewing of the boy’s extended family and witnesses involved in discovering his body as it lay by the roadside. Ella suffers various distractions in the shape of her over-protective mother who is always asking her round for meals, and in having an unwelcome partner foisted on her when the mother of the victim makes a public fuss about the resource levels assigned to the case. Perhaps her most challenging distraction is Ella’s boyfriend Wayne, who is oppressively domestic – one can see that Ella is soon going to be tired of him even before he buys her mother a mobile phone and teaches her how to text her daughter.

The paramedic part of the plot is provided by Georgie Riley, recently reassigned to Sydney after being involved in an accident at her old station. Although not her fault, Georgie is being persecuted by her sexist and nasty supervisor, who is related to the accident victim. Eventually Georgie is put on a kind of probation, finding herself in Sydney and under the supervision of a senior paramedic who will report on her work at the end of two weeks, whereupon it will be decided if Georgie can stay in the service. On starting her first day at work, Georgie is shocked to find that her superivsor is Faye, her best friend at school who abruptly left one day without leaving any message for Georgie, who was devastated. Faye is evasive, and given the nature of the job there is very little time for conversation inbetween rushing to various disasters and false alarms. The author was herself a paramedic for many years and these aspects of the novel are very excitingly depicted, with seeming authenticity. Whether it would seem authentic to the reader when it turns out that Georgie was the girl who discovered the boy’s body in the case that Ella is investigating, and that Faye is clearly implicated in some way but uses her power over Georgie to stop her from telling the police that Faye knew the victim, is less clear.

Despite this unlikely coincidence, this novel is everything that crime fiction should be. There’s a good plot that may not, in the end, be a huge surprise in its revelation of what really happened to the dead boy, but which is satisfying, taut and solid. There are strongly depicted characters, particularly Ella and Georgie, who are dealing not only with typical workplace and relationship issues but also in Georgie’s case, much more danger. The descriptions of the work of the ambulance service are convincing and exciting – overall this is a great story which I raced through in a day; it beats me why a book like this is not on top of the bestseller lists compared with some of the lazy, formulaic offerings by authors whom I have long since stopped reading.

I thank Pan Macmillan for my copy of this novel, a paperback original.

My review of the previous Ella Marconi novel, The Darkest Hour.

Read other reviews of Cold Justice at: Reactions to Reading, Sunnie’s Book Blog and Mysteries in Paradise.

See reviews of Katherine Howell’s books and more about this author at Fair Dinkum crime. See also the author’s website for more details of her and her books.