Dead Pretty by Candy Denman – a powerful story of crime, medicine and tension

A doctor’s life can be challenging, and this woman faces more challenges than most. For fans of forensic crime investigations, this is a novel which vibrates with the grimness of daily life and the fear of sudden death in a community where the police and medical professionals mainly represented by Dr. Jocasta Hughes make some difficult discoveries. This is a book about a woman who finds the limitations of her ability to cope with the unbearable lives of some of those around her, and meets them with her thoughtful contributions and personal optimism. Hastings is a town of contrast in this novel which is very much of the present day, where the well off move in different circles from those who live on the edge of the law of poverty, crime and fear. The realism of this novel can be sometimes overwhelming, as women who are without hope suffer and even die, and a killer lurks in the shadows. This is a fascinating book, and I was grateful to receive a copy to read and review.

Dr Jo, or Jocasta, Hughes, is a young woman who works as a part time G.P. in a mixed practice where the patients reflect the variety of many urban communities. She is an extremely able doctor, though lives a somewhat lonely single life. She also works as a police surgeon, and as such is called into the police station to deal with those who turn up there with a variety of back stories. Her most challenging role is to arrive first on the scene when a body is discovered, and assess the death for suspicious circumstances. She does not perform all the forensic procedures and unlike television pathologists she does not officially become involved in the detection of crime, despite the fact that she continually encounters the same police officers who she clinically observes. As sudden death seems to be a pattern among young women, especially prostitutes, she begins to fear that the squalid deaths show planning, but finds it difficult to persuade the police that she has possibly gained more understanding of the desperate women who are seemingly being targeted.  She continues with her life of seeking a real relationship, sorting out her domestic life, and spending time with her outrageous friend Kate while coping with her complicated parents.

This is a grim book which spares no details of violent death and the squalid vulnerable nature of some women’s lives. The character of Jo transforms this novel into a very readable book, infusing it with movement and purpose, some humour and style. She has the same hesitations and concerns as many women, and the gritty nature of her work is in contrast with a lifestyle of financial security. It is not a depressing book, but there is a sense of risk or even danger as Jo carefully pushes to find out what is truly going on in this town as she encounters so many people. Denman is an extremely capable writer, constructing a plot full of tension while keeping a consistent view of people in all their variety. I found it a powerful view of contemporary life, vibrant and realistic, a strong novel full of promise.



Today I have been working on my M.A. dissertation proposal for a tutorial tomorrow. I can never decide if fifteen thousand words sound daunting because it is so much to produce, or a bit of a limitation on a huge subject. I am probably going to focus on some of the heritage sites associated with famous writers; on Friday we got to the Charles Dickens Museum in London. The volunteers were tremendously welcoming, especially as we coped with a temperamental lift which eventually allowed me to see most of this fascinating house. I would recommend a visit if you are in London.