A Kiss Before Killing is the latest in a long line of crime thrillers involving forensics and pathology by author Keith McCarthy, who is himself a practicing pathologist.
The story: Edward Marsham is admitted to the Royal Infirmary, having hung himself in his prison cell. There he dies. It had been predicted, but to Dr. Claire Woodforde, it is the latest in several unexpected deaths at the hospital, all on one ward, and she suspects there is a killer on the staff.
Detective Chief Inspector Beverley Wharton and her new sergeant Tom Bayes, are assigned to investigate Marsham’s death, and soon they begin to wonder if Marsham’s death was natural or whether someone helped him along. They are being driven by Wharton’s superior and seem to be making progress when a body without limbs or a head is found in an empty house.
The eminent pathologist Dr. John Eisenmenger, now retired, is asked to examine the torso in the hopes of establishing its identity and cause of death. He is soon tasked with more autopsies, as more torsos are discovered. Wharton and Bayes have a growing suspicion that there is a link between these and Marsham’s case.
As written in the book description: This is not for the faint-hearted reader of crime thrillers — it shines a light into the darkest recesses of the human soul.
I will state at the outset there are parts of this mystery which are grisly. The author is a physician/pathologist and clearly knows about dissection and forensics, which lends great reality to his story. I am a trained anatomist and have done many cadaver dissections, so I could deal with the descriptions, but there may be some potential readers who couldn’t. Fair warning.
As for the story itself, it is multi-layered and the reader needs to pay close attention to detail. The main characters – Beverly Wharton, John Eisenmenger (with whom she had had a relationship), and Tom Bayes, the rookie, are well-drawn and compelling. Wharton’s relationship with Eisenmenger is interesting and nuanced and I enjoyed watching the gradual maturation of Bayes as Wharton’s partner. Superintendent Lambert was clearly intended to be an irritant as he oversees Wharton’s work, and he certainly is, but I found his interactions with somewhat over the top and not particularly professional.
Dr. Claire Woodforde, by contrast, was pale and indeterminate. I never really got a feeling for her as a person, and the part of the mystery concerning the unexpected deaths in the hospital proceeded at a lethargic pace. The portrayal of the hospital administration was all too real, but even though this aspect of the book ultimately tied into the search for the murderer of the owners of the headless and limbless bodies, it never really captured my interest.
While there is great tension towards the last third of the book, there was an overall lack of emotion on the part of the characters with regard to the deaths. The dialogue was realistic and the author did a good job carrying the story forward, although at drastically different paces.
Overall, this book was a competent and occasionally compelling read, with enough twists and turns to hold your interest.
About the author
Keith McCarthy is a practicing pathologist for over thirty years, now working part-time. He enjoys writing novels in the crime thriller genre and is well known for his Eisenmenger-Flemming Forensic Mysteries. He also writes under the name Lance Elliot. He is currently learning the art of writing screenplays for film and TV. The golf course occasionally beckons him away from his writing.
You can find him
On twitter @keithpmccarthy
On his home page http://keithmccarthy.co.uk/
And on Wikipedia! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_McCarthy
You can find his books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Keith-McCarthy/e/B001JS0NZO