All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

In Her Blood – Annie Hauxwell

on May 17, 2013

In Her BloodIn Her Blood (Catherine Berlin #1)
Annie Hauxwell
Penguin AU
2012, 261p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

When Financial Services Agency investigator Catherine Berlin gets a tip off about a loan shark operating in London, she arranges to meet with her privately – something that breaks all the rules. Since the global financial crisis, the London banks are lending to no one. Those that are desperate for cash are forced to go elsewhere, often trapping themselves into an endless cycle of repayments without ever being able to fully pay out the loan. Failure to make a payment often results in blood loss.

Berlin is told by those above that the file is to be closed and to cut ties with her informer but no real reason is given. Then her informer is found floating in the Limehouse Basin with her throat cut and Berlin is suspended pending an inquiry for continuing an investigation that she had been told to forget and meeting an informer alone, flouting the rules.

Elsewhere in London, a GP is murdered in his practice – one of the few GP’s legally allowed to dispense pharmaceutical grade heroin to addicts who manage their addiction by taking a controlled dose daily under medical supervision. Catherine Berlin has made the trip to this particular doctor’s offices every day at the same time for years and years and since his death and the theft of the drugs he kept on the premises, all other GP’s legally license to dispense the drug have been forbidden from doing so. Berlin faces utter panic – she has no way to get the drug she needs to continue to function and the fear of being without it threatens to derail her. She knows that anyone in the medical profession that she does go and see will just tip her into a methadone program and that isn’t what she wants and it won’t work for her.

Berlin finds herself an unwilling co-investigator in the case of the murdered doctor – blackmailed by an unorthodox officer who, for her assistance, will see what he can do about getting her a regular fix to keep her on the straight and narrow. And while she’s reluctantly playing her part in that, she’s also looking in to the murder of her informant, which haunts her. Even though she seems unlikely to keep her job once the inquiry is all said and done, that isn’t going to stop her from doing what she can to get to the bottom of the murder and the loansharking and see if she can’t find some justice in it all.

A heroin-addicted investigator is certainly a conflicted protagonist and definitely a type that I’ve never come across before. It was certainly an interesting element to add to what can be a bit of a tired cliche – the troubled copper type with the demons they chase down with shots of scotch or bourbon, whatever their poison. Catherine also has quite the affection for scotch herself but first and foremost, she is ruled by her addiction to heroin which we find more and more as her uncertainty about her future supply begins to consume her. For years, Catherine has managed her addiction with a simple daily dose administered by a qualified practitioner who has carefully experimented and come up with the perfect dose. She no longer experiences the ‘high’ that many street junkies do, but a calm clarity. Without it, the edge begins to seep in, the shakes, the chills, the headaches. Her supply is tenuous – she does manage to secure some but then it is destroyed and her thought processes become more disjointed and fractured the longer she goes without a hit.

I really enjoyed the setting in this book – London in the grips of a harsh winter. It’s bleak, wet and grey and seems to contribute an awful lot of atmosphere, backing up Berlin’s helpless situation. She trudges around in the slush, trying to find clues that will lead her to the loanshark she’s supposed to not be investigating, finding refuge in dimly lit pubs to warm herself with a belt or two of good quality single malt. Hauxwell doesn’t shy away from the violence either: grisly acts litter this book, each one a little bit worse than the one preceding it. The seedy underbelly of London society, the dregs of junkies, petty thieves and those desperate for money end up marrying into the upper former-moneyed class and prove that in the end, people are all pretty similar when it comes to money and needing it. 

I think that on one hand, the addiction breathes fresh life into what is quite a well-trodden path but at the same time it also makes it rather difficult to connect with Catherine and feel anything for her – except perhaps pity. She’s a functional addict, which means she manages to hold down a good job, pay for a flat, live a life much like anyone else, apart from the fact that she injects herself with heroin once a day. Because her supply is threatened here, her thought processes tend to revolve around how she might get more – she approaches a street dealer, she asks a shady figure to help her, she steals. It’s quite disconcerting to imagine someone in a position of power and authority approaching dealers in sinister underground tube stations. I’m not entirely sure why she has gone the route of shooting up for the past 20 years instead of attempting detox – all that seems to be clear is that she has no interest in quitting her habit or switching to the more socially and politically acceptable methadone program. Given what happened to her at the end of the novel, I look forward to seeing where she is at with her addiction management in the second novel, A Bitter Taste.


Book #124 of 2013

AWW2013Although born in London, Annie Hauxwell came to Australia with her parents when she was a teen and currently still lives here, so I’m counting this novel for participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2013. It’s book #53.


3 responses to “In Her Blood – Annie Hauxwell

  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    I’m just about to read A Bitter Taste, it sounds promising.

    • I have read A Bitter Taste too, I think it was a better book than this one but I do have a bit of trouble connecting with Catherine because she’s so focused on her addiction.

  2. […] IN HER BLOOD, which features a protagonist who is a ‘functional drug addict’ Bree from all the books I can read raises a dichotomy I have felt myself when meeting such characters “I think that on one hand, […]

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