alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.13 No.27 | July 1 - 7, 2004 

Book Review

Bloody Good, I Say

The Blood Doctor

Barbara Vine
Vintage Crime
paper
$13

Barbara Vine is the pen name of British author Ruth Rendell, a psychologically subtle mystery writer known for relentlessly tightening the screws of interior dread. Instead of staging a Texas chainsaw jamboree, The Blood Doctor, recently released in paperback, uses the history of research into hemophilia to explore a character cursed with "a passion for blood."

The protagonist, biographer Sir Martin Nanther, is researching his great-grandfather Dr. Henry Nanther, a physician and early hemophilia specialist so highly respected that his patients included Queen Victoria and her children. Because Vine is incapable of writing a book that doesn't make your skin crawl, it's not surprising when Martin unearths dark secrets and then even deeper, darker secrets about this first Lord Nanther. (Yes, the string of characters named Lord Nanther becomes Monty Pythonish at times.)

Before we knew about genes and DNA and the complexities of biological inheritance, blood was held accountable for most of our traits both good and bad. And blood, or heredity, drives Vine's plot. Never one to support a complex theme on just one leg, Vine adds two others.

Martin sits in Britain's House of Lords as a hereditary peer, although his title originated with scholarly great-grandfather Henry rather than some armor-clanking Dark Age warrior. In contrast, life peers such as Sir Paul McCartney receive their titles by means of personal achievement and can't pass them on. To the Brits, there's a big difference. The story takes place during the 2000 legislative saga that stripped hereditary peers of their right to sit in the House of Lords. Martin is torn between relief at shucking the archaic silliness and melancholy at seeing the hereditary peers plod into the twilight like dinosaurs.

But Vine's most emotionally wrenching variation on the theme is the single-minded determination of Martin's wife to bear a child in spite of multiple miscarriages, and her refusal to be happy otherwise. By turns, Martin is willing to give up anything to accommodate his wife and resentful at her lack of attention to him or anything else. Having a 20-year-old son by a previous marriage, he has no desire for a new baby, but he trudges through medical purgatory pretending he wants one. It's a stunning portrait of a marriage faltering under the burden of obsession.

Vine's observations of human behavior are so keen, so free of cliché that we often recognize traits we've sensed but never quite defined. Of one character Vine writes, "It's extraordinary the smug satisfaction people like her derive from being unkind to babies." Aha! She finally pinpoints what's so off-putting about punitive parenting guru Dr. John Rosemund! At other times her characterizations, which assume a British grounding in art and history, fall on American ears made deaf by reality shows and video games.

A novel based on genetic inheritance patterns may well demand an enormous cast of kinfolk, but keeping track of the bleeding characteristics of 50 members of Martin's extended family can get as tedious as counting Gregor Mendel's peas. Fortunately, the book includes diagrams of family trees.

Today's Events

AZ/NM Connection at El Chante: Casa de Cultura

AZ/NM poster art by Jeremy “Eyerock” Arviso (detail)

Multi-site event showcases art in all genres from both states, featuring 60 artists, 8 musical groups, muralists and more.

Pandas: The Journey Home at New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science

AZ/NM Connection at Masks y Mas

More Recommented Events ››
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    BeerBeatsBellydance&More
    BeerBeatsBellydance&More9.20.2014