Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

rubberneckerLast week, I wrote mini-reviews of two mysteries, The Silkworm and Faceless Killers.  To complete my mystery round-up, here’s a review of my favorite of the three.

I’d heard great things about this book, and was excited to get a review copy (it’s not new, just newly published on Kindle). And this book did not disappoint.

I’m personally fascinated by Asperger’s Syndrome, and I’ve really enjoyed reading books where the story is told from that perspective (The Rosie Project and The Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime are two examples). I find these characters sympathetic because they have to work so much harder to understand other people and to be understood.

Discovering that he was missing a critical link turned school into a daily misery for Patrick.  Everybody else possessed the key to popularity and happiness, and his clumsy attempts to find his own key always ended with other children looking at him funny, or calling him names.  Classmates hid his pencils just to watch him rage, and a group of boys wrapped his winter coat round a rock and threw it on the roof of the bike shed.  The frustration left him confused and angry, and obstinate at home, where he made his parents shout at each other behind closed doors.  Patrick would press his cheek to the cool, painted wood and listen to his mother’s voice cracking hysterically: ‘… can”t go on like this! I wish we’d never had him!’

Patrick is our main character, and in this book, set in Cardiff, he’s accepted into an anatomy program and his first assignment is to work with a team dissecting a cadaver. Most of the team are medical students, but Patrick is singularly interested in the dead. As a child he saw his father run over by a car, and he’s been trying to figure out the meaning of life and death ever since.

The team is assigned to determine a cause of death, which is supposed to be obvious, but Patrick’s unique intellect allows him to see some discrepancies. Since no one will listen to him, he breaks a lot of rules in order to learn more about what happened.

At the same time, a parallel story takes place in a “coma” ward in a hospital, where one of the characters is waking up from a serious car accident.  Good news right?  Except he’s mostly immobile and doesn’t know where he is or who he’s married to.

I won’t tell you more because this book is too good to give any of it away. I loved it, because it’s such an emotional journey for Patrick, and the side characters are just as interesting.

Two things you should know about this book: parts of it were really disturbing.  It’s not violent, but the anatomical descriptions are very detailed.  I could handle the detailed descriptions of dead bodies but it was getting inside the head of a patient in a mostly-coma that really bothered me. I’m always freaked out by the idea of being conscious but unable to move or communicate. Still, while it disturbed me it was really well written, and I couldn’t stop reading.

So If those things don’t make you too squeamish, I highly recommend this book.  I also had mixed feelings about the storyline about Patrick’s father, but found Patrick’s troubled relationship with his mother really touching. I’m not quite sure what to think about the Mr. Deal storyline.  This book throws a lot at you but it’s all good.

Have you read anything by this author?  What should I read next?

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review.

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