I consider myself to be a pretty fast reader but it is rare even for me to race through a whole book in one Sunday as I did with ‘Rubbernecker’ by Belinda Bauer which won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s Novel of the Year award in 2014. The story begins with an account of how Sam Galen ended up in a coma following a car accident and his experiences in a high-dependency neurological ward in the care of Tracy Evans, a selfish nurse attempting to charm the wealthy husband of one of the other patients. Meanwhile, Patrick Fort, an anatomy student at Cardiff University, discovers that the body he is dissecting didn’t expire from the causes officially stated on the death certificate. Gradually, these different plot lines become more closely entwined with each other.
Patrick has Asperger’s syndrome and his characterisation will draw inevitable comparisons with Christopher Boone from ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ by Mark Haddon. Like Christopher, Patrick deals with mysteries logically and thoroughly and most people around him become easily frustrated by his behaviour. Patrick’s father was killed in a hit and run accident when he was a child and he is obsessed with trying to “understand” death and what happens to the body in the process of dying. Due to his complete lack of empathy, Patrick is studying anatomy rather than medicine as he doesn’t have the required bedside manner to become a doctor and his university tutors make it very clear that he has only been accepted on to the course to fulfil their disability quota.
Having recently read ‘Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery‘ by Henry Marsh, Bauer’s account of the neurological ward where Sam is in a coma is evidently well researched. The story becomes progressively more chilling and darkly comic with a very memorable ending. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story but needless to say that after reading ‘Rubbernecker’, you will never think about the contents of a fridge in student accommodation in the same way ever again.
‘Rubbernecker’ isn’t a perfect book – I think the third strand of the story following Tracy and Mr Deal was less compelling – but it is an intriguing and intelligently written novel. Highly recommended for crime fiction fans looking for a new twist on the genre.