Monday, July 12, 2010

Review of Vodka Doesn’t Freeze by Leah Giarrantano (Bantam, 2007)

When a known paedophile is brutally murdered whilst spying on a kiddies paddling pool, Sergeant Jill Jackson and her partner Scott Hutchinson are assigned to the case.  Despite their obvious attraction, the partnership is purely platonic due to Jill standoffishness caused by her experiences at the hands of child sex abusers.  Still emotional damaged, she’s apprehensive about taking on the case, and somewhat ambivalent about tracking down a killer who has cleansed society of a sexual predator.  Jackson and Hutchinson soon determine that two other child sex offenders have been recently slain and that they are tracking a serial killer administering vigilante justice.  Hindered by internal rivalries within the police force they slowly make progress, establishing connections between the victims and uncovering evidence of a long-standing paedophile ring.  Stopping the killer, on the one hand, and getting to the heart of the ring and shutting it down on the other, means Jill confronting her own demons.

Vodka Doesn’t Freeze isn’t the easiest of reads – child sex abuse and paedophilia rings are not the stuff of light reading.  However, Giarrantano draws on her accumulated experience as a psychologist dealing with sex offenders and survivors to handle the material with care.  The police politics and rivalries are realistic, but what lifts the book beyond the normal is the characterisation, especially the victims and perpetrators, which is excellent, along with some astute observations about families, relationships and the evil that people do unto each other.  Sergeant Jill Jackson has a harrowing back story, and enough foibles and personality traits to make her an interesting central character.  The plot for the most part is sound, although the climatic ending was telegraphed from a long way out, and there were a few odds an ends that detracted a little from the read (the ring and its operation is so widely known amongst victims and practioners that it operates as an open secret and that the fact that it had done so for so long without attracting police attention didn’t seem credible; instead of closing down its activities with the killing of its members and rise in police activity the ring instead carry-on as normal; the ability to fight without sight felt too much like a plot device; and there was an unnecessary twist at the end accompanied by an unrealistic scenario).  That said, these are relatively minor distractions from what is a powerful and compelling first novel that draws the reader in and then packs them off on a taut rollercoaster ride bristling with tension.  Overall, a very solid police procedural that holds the promise of an excellent series. 

For other reviews see: Reactions to Reading; Mysteries in Paradise


Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. It's not easy to write about such disturbing topics and do it well, so I'm glad you pointed that out. And I agree - credibility is an important thing. Still, I'm glad you found this a good read.

Maxine Clarke said...

I've just finished this novel and really enjoyed your review.