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A Bitter Taste – Annie Hauxwell

on May 30, 2013

A Bitter TasteA Bitter Taste (Catherine Berlin #2)
Annie Hauxwell
Penguin Books Aus
2013, 299p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Please note that the following review will contain ***SPOILERS*** for the first Catherine Berlin novel, In Her Blood.

Heroin-addicted Catherine Berlin has turned private investigator after the case that cost her her career and the financial crisis that shut down her former department. Now she works mundane domestics, taking her payment in groceries.

In the midst of a London heatwave, it’s not just the rainfall that’s dried up. There’s a serious shortage on heroin as well and when a face from Catherine’s past turns up on her doorstep, Catherine’s first instinct is to get rid of her. She hasn’t seen Sonja Kvist in years but Sonja’s 10 year old daughter has gone missing in a dangerous area and Catherine does owe Sonja a debt of a sort, being the one responsible for bringing the once good girl down, via a taste of her favourite poison.

And so Berlin sets off on the trail of a 10 year old girl amidst homeless junkies and corrupt cops who are looking for their own payday. When a young girl that Catherine had brief contact with is murdered, she suddenly finds herself in the frame for the killing. Soon it seems like cops from everywhere are wanting a piece of Berlin but she can’t let that happen. She has a job to do and that is to keep a 10 year old safe….from more than just the dangers that lurk on the street.

A Bitter Taste is the second novel in the Catherine Berlin series and in this installment, Berlin has moved into private investigation after losing her job and she’s now on a methodone program to help manage her pain from the injuries she sustained after being caught in the animal traps. She’s also on the program to attempt to kick her addiction but Berlin is always in two minds about that. The idea of being clean after 20  or more years is a daunting one. She’s not exactly living the high life these days, taking payment in groceries and cheap scotch on a matrimonial case but things get a lot more interesting (and dangerous) when she is tracked down by a former acquaintance from the days she was still smoking heroin, not injecting it legally.

I think the demise of Berlin’s job does open up a whole new range of opportunities for the character – in the first novel she seemed a bit of a loose cannon, investigating where she’d been told to leave it lie, risking her job many times over. She’s obviously a person who is a magnet for trouble, as she proves even more in this book when she gets involved in searching for Sonja Kvist’s missing 10 year old daughter. Detectives just happen to be running an operation on Kvist and her dealer on again/off again boyfriend and Berlin is starting to turn up in a few too many places for their liking. Unfortunately for Berlin, the cops are less than straight and getting her out of the way would be a benefit for everyone because Berlin has a nose for sniffing out trouble. Or really I should say that Berlin more likely has a magnet that attracts trouble to her like honey draws flies.

Despite the fact that Catherine is not desperate about where her next fix is coming from in this novel like she was in the first in this series, I still do find it hard to connect with her. She’s a very solitary type of person, she doesn’t have many friends, she rarely speaks to her remaining family. We have only been given the barest hint into some of her past, mostly about her father. There’s no mention of previous partners or romantic relationships. She seems to have no lasting friendships, only a former colleague who she does call for information sometimes and although he helps her, I’m not entirely sure what benefit he gets out of the friendship as it does seem rather one sided. I did find Catherine’s determination to find the missing child rather admirable, even when it becomes obvious that there are many other factors at play here that Berlin wasn’t made aware of. However as a lead character in what is going to be a series, it is very difficult to get a handle on her. What motivates her other than her fix? Does anything other than that motivate her? She appears to be struggling for money but the feeling that she might indeed owe Sonja for all those years ago seems to lead to her taking this job for free. I’m hoping that each new installment continues to offer up another piece of the puzzle that is Berlin so I feel as though I can understand her more. Although I enjoyed this book more than the first one in the series, I feel as though I would’ve liked it more if I’d been able to really get Berlin as a character.


Book #128 of 2013


A Bitter Taste is book #54 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013


2 responses to “A Bitter Taste – Annie Hauxwell

  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    Oddly I like that Catherine remains undefinable, though I do look forward to learning more about her as the series continues

  2. […] Bree from 1girl2manybooks echoes this notion that Catherine is an unreachable character for readers […]

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