Kathryn Fox is a medical practitioner who lives in Sydney; Death Mask is her 5th novel on the subject of serious sexual assault, from the viewpoint of medical examiner Anya Crichton. Anya is very much based on the medical practice and expertise Fox has picked up over the years whilst developing her interest in forensic medicine.
Death Mask starts off with the wedding of two youngsters, one a footballer and the other a young girl with a purity pledge. Brett and Hannah wed a wedding which doesn't last very long due to a gang rape after the ceremony.
The prologue of this novel explores the wedding and ideals Hannah has of married life. It also sets the scene for Brett to be a shifty character with some kind of plan. The first chapter flies forward to three weeks later where Anya is introduced, before the third chapter sees the characters at the stage of a court case.
For me this set a pretty fast pace to the book as there is no way a court hearing would come about so soon after such a serious sexual assault.
From the sixth chapter, just a few pages later, Anya is on her way to America having been head hunted to educate male sports teams on responsible sexual relations and the consequences of failing to use protection and rape.
From this point onwards the pace slows down, with Fox explaining Anya's involvement in her field and her expertise. I like the character of Dr Crichton; she is a divorced mother of one, whose son resides with his father. She has weekend rights, every other weekend. She pays a high maintenance fee to her ex-husband for the care of her son, who she wishes she could have at home.
In New York Anya develops a working relationship with Ethan Rye, Private Investigator and chaperone. She delivers her education lectures explaining the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex to teams of famous sportsmen before being thrown into a criminal investigation of a fashion rep who was raped, allegedly by said sportsmen.
Anya and Ethan begin to work together on the case, his investigative skills and her medical expertise forming the perfect partnership. She is employed by the New Jersey Bombers (football side) to find out the extent of their players involvement in gang rape, whilst also being employed by the Attorney to give expertise and clarify what actually happened with the witness.....one would think this would be a huge conflict of interest, but apparently not.
I wasn't convinced by Ethan from an early stage. Fox implies he is dodgy, with money changing hands and his sneaky knowledge. I suspected him as part of the problem from a very early stage but I guess this is where Kathryn Fox excels in her writing.
She doesn't give anything way. She cleverly formulates a story which is strong and contains many twists and turns.
The Criminal case turns to death and Anya and Ethan find themselves investigating several suspicious deaths under the initial pretence of natural causes or unsuspecting illnesses. As she develops her research into gang rape and the causes behind the mentality of footballers specifically, she also develops her American contacts she becomes further involved in the case with several twists in the story.
The general aim of the novel is to explore the gang culture in sports teams and Anya has the statistics to support her analysis that footballers are, statistically, more likely to commit gang rape, due to their conditioned mentality to do as they are told for the team, even if this means all taking their share of a players new partner or wife as they are drugged up and unaware.
The novel is easy to read and well written. It sounds extremely heavy going with rape, murder, suicide and drugs the main themes of the book. However, the way its written means it isn't heavy going at all, in-fact it's difficult to explain how easy it is to read, it's quite gripping. I have an interest in the subject and experience of my own research into sexual assault and abuse which probably means I lean more towards understanding the themes and medical procedures which the novel depicts.
That said, you wouldn't need this experience to follow the terminology or the reasons behind certain actions.
Anya's character is used to explain the reasons behind her actions, more often than not in a conversational manner as she is explaining to another character. This makes it easier to understand because it is simplified for the character as well as the reader.
Likewise Ethan's character is used to explain the processes used by the police and initiatives taken by private investigators to obtain information which wouldn't usually be in the public domain. It's quite scary to see how much an investigator can find on any one person with very little effort.
Kathryn Fox writes in good sized chapters. There are 48 in total which means if you don't have the time to read a big block at a time you can stop regularly and easily resume without pausing halfway through a chapter.
Overall I really enjoyed this book just like I have her last four. I actively sought it out in the charity shops (I refuse to pay full price for a hardback) and got it for £2!
Published in March 2011 it retails at £12.99 in hardback and only came out in paperback in October.
Amazon are stocking the hardback version for £9.99, paperback version for£3.86 and a Kindle version for £4.99.