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by Eva Dolan
Random House UK, January 2017
379 pages
ISBN: 1784701769

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this third outing for DI Zigic and DS Ferreira, members of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit, the pair are presented with a case rather different from what they have dealt with previously. This time, their official connection to the case is somewhat more tenuous than before. A woman and her paralysed teenaged daughter are found dead in their home. The mother has been beaten and stabbed, the daughter, Holly, has died of the effects of inattention following her mother's death. What brings Zigic and Ferreira into the investigation is that the daughter has been the target of a hate campaign directed at her disability. Her adapted van painted with "CRIPPLE" in black letters, her blog site, where she had talked about her responses to becoming disabled after a climbing accident and where she had expressed her desire to be allowed to die with dignity, attacked by trolls. Could it be possible that someone was so consumed by hatred for this young woman that he or she killed the mother and left the daughter to die unattended?

The two earlier books had a somewhat broader social and political reach than AFTER YOU DIE. Whereas the racism and anti-immigrant sentiment at the centre of these books can and does find organized political expression, hatred of the disabled does not, or so I profoundly hope. The landscape of the present novel is narrower and more strictly domestic. Interwoven with the pursuit of the truth in the criminal case is the story of eleven-year-old Nathan, fostered in a neighbour's house to protect him against some unspecified menace, and suddenly gone missing, fleeing cross country, heading for an illusion of safety. Before he took to his heels, Nathan had frequently visited Holly and seemed to like her. But why has he taken off at the same time as Holly's death? Did he see something he shouldn't or, worse, did he have a hand in what happened to the girl and her mother?

The police work is impeccable and the suspense generated by Nathan's flight and the mystery surrounding why he felt he had to flee provides a strong forward movement to the plot. But just as the TV news these days seems to find it necessary to precede coverage of a terrorist attack or a horrific disaster with the warning that "some viewers may find the following distressing," I have to point out that some readers may be disturbed by the darkness of this book. Most of the female characters are certainly strong, but it seems that they have developed their strength at the expense of feeling. Ferreira, for example, was badly injured in an explosion on the job and has only just returned to work. It may be too soon, but her parents are driving her crazy and she needs to get out of the house. So she feels she cannot display any physical weakness, even going so far as to insist on digging bits of debris out of her damaged leg with a razor blade rather than going to hospital. The policewoman who is in charge of Nathan's protection appears indifferent to the boy's future, concerned only that he remain in one piece until whatever she needs him for is over. Nathan's foster mother, now unexpectedly pregnant after years of trying, appears to have lost her balance as a result of her prospective motherhood.

The men tend to be either ineffectual or self-centred to an alarming degree. DI Zigic is the exception, but even he has been less than successful in resolving the opposing demands of his work and his family (he is the father of two boys and expecting a daughter). It is as if Dolan has decided to address the question of gender roles by a thoroughgoing reversal of them; the result is not a happy one with damage done to both genders.

Still AFTER YOU DIE is an absorbing read and one that raises some important questions without ever hopping up on a soap box and issuing a manifesto.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, April 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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