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Blindsided by the ingenious ‘Rubbernecker’

Bauer’s book is one of the best ever to be reviewed in this space
"Rubbernecker," by Belinda Bauer

In life, sometimes you just can’t believe the luck. Sunsets are always beautiful, but some are awesome; vistas can be inspiring, but many are astonishing; and books of fiction are often exciting, but some are absolutely stunning.

“Rubbernecker,” by Welsh author Belinda Bauer, released in cloth cover last August by Atlantic Monthly Press, sends all other crime fiction authors and publishers home for a timeout to think about what they’ve not accomplished. This is a book in the murder mystery genre that will go into the time capsule of evolving literature – should there be one – to be preserved for later generations to marvel. Among the many outstanding crime fiction books Murder Ink has featured, “Rubbernecker” is inarguably the most ingenious and fascinating – and every book featured in this column has been extraordinary.

Patrick Fort is saddled with an autism spectrum disorder provisionally labeled Asperger’s Syndrome. He was a difficult child with repetitive patterns of behavior and obsessive interests in minutiae, disinterest in social discourse and an explosive temper in response to trivialities or taunts or physical contact. But Patrick was smart and curious, capable of extreme concentration and thorough investigation and winning outcomes. Subtleties were not Patrick’s forte, every word spoken or heard was precisely meant, cautionary looks were missed entirely, feelings for others or others for him were not in his field of sensibilities.

If Patrick can be said to have had a passion, it was for discovering the mechanics of death: As an 8-year-old, he watched as his father, angry for having to walk Patrick home from school after walloping a boy for bullying him, turned to order Patrick to speed up then stepped off the curb and was killed by a car. Patrick didn’t understand, but he was determined to, and over the years he brought home dead birds and mice and rabbits to discover how they got that way. He was raised by a single mother whom he literally drove crazy with a coping assist from alcohol, but not before he was accepted under affirmative action into medical school.

Anatomy was Patrick’s predilection, and during his class in dissecting the human cadaver, with instructions to ascertain cause of death, Patrick discovered a barely-perceptible curiosity in the number 19 that led him to believe that the dead man had been murdered. As ever, Patrick could not be deterred from investigating, and this fervency for certitude led to a world of subterfuge, medical malpractice and murders, uncovered by a person everyone thought was a nitwit.

So that’s the underlying plot of Bauer’s new book. A half-dozen back stories and side stories twist the plot this way and that, resulting in a most exciting look at the unambiguous world of an idiot savant’s obsession with death and truth and meaning and, perhaps, the misunderstanding of what love is.

I was blindsided by “Rubbernecker,” as I was by Renée Knight’s “Disclaimer,” featured in my last Murder Ink column. Other fine crime fiction books deserving of trumpeting are piling up on my desk, set aside due to the arrival of these two dark horses and Montanari’s fabulous “The Doll Maker.”

You should know about them in case new releases obscure them again and they’re not reviewed in Murder Ink: “Down Among the Dead Men,” another keeper by the eminent Peter Lovesey; “The Survivors,” a gem by Robert Palmer; “The Zig Zag Girl,” by Elly Griffiths, about a band of magicians who served together in World War II coming together to track a killer who’s performing deadly tricks; “Ice Cold,” by German writer Andrea Maria Schenkel, very noir, very good and very disturbing; “The Body Snatcher,” a fascinating story of ransoming a corpse by Brazilian writer of noir fiction, Patrícia Melo; Chris Abani with “The Secret History of Las Vegas,” a far-out exercise in fiction by a writer who won the Pen/Hemingway Award. And let’s never overlook another Inspector Montalbano mystery by the most marvelous Andrea Camilleri, “Game of Mirrors.”

jeff@jeffmannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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