SinC25: Katherine Howell, #4 post of “moderate” challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ easy challenge, I am now embarking on the next step, the:

Moderate challenge: write five blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention another woman author who writes in a similar vein.

Katherine Howell is my fourth choice because she’s (so far) published four books in her excellent series about Sydney police and paramedics. I’ve only read two of these books, but assume the interesting “formula” in those applies to all four. In one sense, the books are police procedurals, as Detective Ella Marconi and her colleagues investigate the crime that forms the basic plot of the book. In another sense, the books are “slice of life” dramas about the city’s paramedics, given great authenticity by the fact that the author was a paramedic before she became a full-time writer. The paramedics are different in each of the two books I’ve read, though there are cross-references. Ella binds the novels together.

What is so enjoyable about Katherine Howell’s books is not just the realism of the paramedics’ jobs as they are called out to many kinds of bizarre, dangerous, sad, repetitive or funny incidents that test the full range of their ingenuity and survival skills, but also the sheer pace and muscle of the stories, which are more common (in my experience) in crime novels by male authors. The author combines well her tough plots, often about personal dilemmas and ethics as well as straight murder mysteries, with the life-situation of Ella, her colleagues and the politics she faces at work. In common with some other cops in crime fiction, Ella has to cope with an intrusive mother who is always trying to get her to settle down, get married and have children rather than single-mindedly pursue a career, which is more to Ella’s own taste.

The first novel in the series is Frantic, which I have not read but which (appropriately) won the 2008 Sisters in Crime Davitt award and was longlisted for the Ned Kelly award. The book introduces Ella, who has to deal with a case in which a police colleague is shot, his daughter abducted, and whose wife (a paramedic) decides to investigate the case herself as she realises her husband is being accused of having been corrupt.

I’ve read the second and third novels, The Darkest Hour and Cold Justice (links go to my reviews), both of which cover similar ground as Ella investigates crimes in which paramedics are involved. Violent Exposure, the fourth book, is not yet out in the UK but was published this year in Australia. You can read a review of it at Fair Dinkum Crime, as well as other articles and reviews of the author’s books.

A fifth book, Silent Fear, will be published in Australia in early 2012.

Another woman author who writes in the same vein? This is quite a hard one, as many “medical” thriller authors, such as Karin Slaughter, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen and so on, tend to focus more on medical procedures than does Katherine Howell, whose books are more similar to classic police/PI novels that happen to have a medical setting. Similarly, I’d say that psychological crime authors with women protagonists, such as Nicci French (only half a woman, admittedly!) are not like Katherine Howell who is more interested in social and ethical dilemmas than excessive introspection.

I’d therefore suggest that Sue Grafton, despite the lack of a paramedic angle, is the author among those I’ve read who comes to mind as writing books with a similar-ish tough, professional female protagonist who is somewhat (but not overly) concerned with pressures to conform domestically but essentially happy to exist according to her own mores. In addition, the plots both authors write are brisk and strong, with an emphasis on professionalism rather than mysticism, over-analysing or other psychological aspects. Yet, finally, both authors are interested in addressing social mores and assumptions, with their protagonists having to confront head-on issues of trying to be ethical in a society where many people aren’t, often on an institutionalised scale.

Katherine Howell’s website. Articles by Katherine, and reviews of her books and more, can be found at It’s a Crime! blog – whose author, CrimeFictionReader, first suggested to me that I try a book by Katherine Howell.

The Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ challenge (SinC25) (At the blog of Barbara Fister, the originator).
All Barbara’s posts and round-ups of contributions to the SinC25 challenge.
All my contributions to this challenge.

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5 thoughts on “SinC25: Katherine Howell, #4 post of “moderate” challenge

  1. I read Cold Justice. I liked it very much for the reasons you describe. Also, it wasn’t a gut-clencher for me. It was a pleasant read with interesting observations about the daily lives of a policewoman and a paramedic, and includes their work and personal lives. They seem like real women who are good at their jobs but wrestle with real problems at home and at work. I have to like characters to like books, and I did here.
    I wanted to immediately read more in this series.
    Sue Grafton’s books are a good comparison.

  2. Maxine – What an excellent choice for this challenge! You know, I wouldn’t have thought of the similarities between Howell’s Ella Marconi and Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, but you’ve got a very, very good point. There are several points of comparison.

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