Book review: In Her Blood by Annie Hauxwell

In Her Blood
by Annie Hauxwell
Penguin/Michael Joseph, 2012 (Australia)
Catherine Berlin #1

Catherine Berlin, known always as Berlin, works for the consumer affairs branch of the financial services agency based in East-End London, one of those quangos set up in the headier days of public spending sprees but now demoralised, without results, and probably destined for the chop as the cuts bite. Berlin is focused about pursuing the goals of the unit, which are to help individuals at the mercy of loan sharks. To this end, she has cultivated an informant with the code name “Juliet Bravo” (after an old, popular TV series). The informant has agreed to pass to Berlin information implicating Doyle, a local villain of mythic proportions. But before she can do so, she ends up in Limehouse Basin with her throat cut.

Berlin has not followed correct procedures, so her superiors slap a “no further action” notice on the file. Naturally, Berlin is not happy about this and decides to continue to investigate Doyle – resulting in her suspension from work, but not in any reduction in her determination to discover who is behind the murder.

The action switches to a council hearing, where a local doctor called George Lazenby (cue James Bond jokes) is fighting to keep his position, rare among British general practitioners, of prescribing small doses of heroin to registered addicts, rather than the officially endorsed methadone, which is thought to be the only way in which a person can be “cured” of his or her addiction. Berlin herself is revealed as a long-term heroin addict, one who (by her own account) has her craving under control by taking a daily maintenance dose of the drug – prescribed by Lazenby. Another theme of the novel is how Berlin finds herself with only seven days’ worth of dose remaining to her, which becomes her self-imposed deadline for solving the murder case (she has little faith in the police) and for finding a new source of her drug.

In Her Blood has a large cast of characters, ranging from Doyle and the past history that has made him a successful financial criminal today, to the city types, who are now feeling the pinch as investments crash and who are desperate to liquefy their assets. There are also two separate police investigations, as well as Berlin’s multi-problems with her line management at work. The novel switches from theme to theme, all set against a background of East-End London old and new, among the mists, the rotting canals and the abandoned buildings that once seemed to herald a new commercial boom. The reader has little time to get ahead of Berlin, as she herself is constantly on the move while she juggles all the limited facts at her disposal to attempt to create a coherent story – the fractured nature of which is at least in part due to her subjective perception of the world as a heroin addict.

Although this novel is, at times, a little vague around its edges, and switches scenes so quickly that some of the characters fail to gel sufficiently, it is a very interesting book. Berlin, in particular, is an unusual protagonist who refuses, as does the author, to take any easy moralistic positions. The final answer to the story of “Juliet Bravo” is perhaps, in the end, a little predictable, but is none the less powerful for that.

I thank Bernadette of Reactions to Reading for sending me this book. Her review of it is at Fair Dinkum Crime.

Other reviews of the novel: Euro Crime (Sarah Hilary), Aust Crime and The Bibliomouse.

Publisher’s website: about the book and the author.

11 thoughts on “Book review: In Her Blood by Annie Hauxwell

  1. Sounds interesting. I used to work for a quango and can well remember the dispirited feeling as budgets are cut. Love the ‘Juliet Bravo’ cover name. Takes me back to the 80s!

  2. Maxine – Thanks for the (as always) excellent review. This really does sound like an interesting story. I’m intrigued by the East End setting and the Berlin character sounds like an unusual protagonist but still “normal” enough so as not to stretch credibility. I’m glad you’ve reminded me of this one.

    • Thanks, Margot – it’s an interesting perspective. The cover of the Australian version (pictured here) is clever, & better than the UK one I think.

  3. This sounds very interesting, especially the perspective of the protagonist, which is unusual. One always searches for off-the-beaten track plots and characters in crime fiction. However, Australia’s mysteries rarely make it to the States, at least to libraries. So, although I will look for this, I doubt if I’ll find it. Territorial restrictions, high costsof books and shipping from Oz, limited library budgets, all pet peeves of so many of us.

    • Agree about the Australian publishing issue, Kathy, but this one has also got a UK publisher (released earlier this month), so you may get lucky with this one.

  4. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with what worked and what didn’t with this book which was certainly not perfect but entertaining and with lots of potential which is what I like to see in a debut. Will be interesting to see if the Berlin character can sustain more books.

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