This is my review of Blood Count by Robert Goddard.
The latest of Goddard's annual novels starts with a topical and intriguing dilemma. Edward Hammond, a successful surgeon, is waylaid by the daughter of a Serbian warlord, Dragan Gazi, now standing trail at The Hague for his crimes. Years ago, Hammond performed a life-saving liver transplant on Gazi for a very generous fee. Unless he now performs a further service, Gazi will claim that he was responsible for the murder of Hammond's estranged wife, acting at Hammond's request. Can Hammond risk refusing to be blackmailed, even for something he claims not to have done?
Goddard leads us through one of his famous twisting plots, but this is one of his best, after a few lean years of formulaic pot-boilers. Not only does he demonstrate once again the page-turning ability to create tense situations from which you cannot see how Hammond can possibly escape, but he also raises some interesting issues. Should Hammond have refused to operate in the first place? Was ignorance of the full extent of Gazi's criminality a sufficient excuse? How culpable is Hammond for the death of the thousands whom Gazi went on to kill, after receiving his life-saving liver? In exploring this, there are some lively dialogues, say with Hammond's puzzled and accusing former brother-in-law.
There is real suspense, since we know Goddard is prepared to bump off even sympathetic characters for the sake of a plot twist.
Some of the male characters are quite well-developed, always with the proviso that you never know whom Hammond can trust. As is often the case, the women seem a bit more two dimensional or shadowy to me, although the adoptive mother of Gazi's son is a convincing character in a moving sub-story.
One criticism is that Hammond seems very trusting and naive at times. Of course, this is necessary for the plot twists to work! The quality of the writing jars at times – a Cambridge graduate, Goddard must be able to do better than this – I'm sure his earlier novels were more literary, but he clearly doesn't need to worry about style to hook his readers.
Overall, this is a thoroughly entertaining read that will not leave you feeling cheated or that you have wasted your time.