Ray Hegarty, a former police officer, has been murdered in his own home, and his daughter Sienna is missing. When the police find her in the woods, she’s covered in her father’s blood and nearly comatose with fear. All appearances point to Sienna’s guilt, and it appears to be up to Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychologist who only knows Sienna as his daughter’s friend, to find the missing pieces of a very dark puzzle. There in a nutshell you have Michael Robotham’s Bleed For Me.
Don’t ask me why I read this book. It’s not the kind of book I typically enjoy, and it indulges in every single one of the cliches: the protagonist who’s essentially miserable, has a failing marriage, and can’t see his way out of his own psychological problems; the frail, endangered girl; the smarmy, cop-taunting villain. It’s got bonus cliches as supporting characters, too: tough-talking police officers, desperate single women, you name it. There isn’t a single woman who’s positively portrayed except for O’Loughlin’s almost-ex-wife, and she’s put on a pedestal: I never understood her, I could never understand her, I just want to love her.
Some of the tropes were really wearying, as well. Sienna cuts herself (this is the very first thing we learn) and there’s a short, italicized prologue in her voice that tells us this. Her voice never returns. What’s the point, from a writer’s view? Why not leave that out, and enter the story directly? For that matter, why not leave out that trope altogether? High-school girls are vulnerable enough even when they don’t suffer from disorders. You don’t have to amp up the drama for my sake. Not to mention the leering pruriency of it all: violence, penetration, as a replacement for sex. Again. Yawn.
The bit that did ring true for me was O’Loughlin’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease. This featured in the novel but didn’t overwhelm it, and the dailiness of it — his fear of expressionlessness that might come across wrong in a conversation, his muscles locking at inopportune moments, and so forth — was insightful, even if some of it was relentlessly milked for drama. (The scene that begins with a jerk of O’Loughlin’s rebellious muscles and winds up with a police officer sitting on him was a bit over the top.) Many modern mysteries have their protagonists wrestling with existential angst; fewer have them deal with their own physical mortality. This, at least, was refreshing.
You’ll note that this cover as well as the cover of Robotham’s most recent book, Say You’re Sorry, feature faceless girls running away from the viewer. My five-year-old son looked at them curiously. “Maybe they’re not running away, Mommy,” he said, finally. “Maybe they’re running home for dinner.” Now there’s a mystery I haven’t read yet.