Book Review: Fetish by Tara Moss

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Tara Moss, a Canadian immigrant, receives a lot of publicity for being a glamorous ex-model, public speaker and presenter. She’s also a good writer, however, I doubt that her first novel would have became a bestseller if it wasn’t for her background. It’s good, but not brilliant.

Tara based the book partly on her own experience as the main character, Makedde Vanderwall, is a Canadian model working in Australia. The rest is fictitious: while on a photo shoot in Sydney, Makedde stumbles across the body of her best friend Catherine, who has been tortured and murdered by a serial killer. She soon meets the detective in charge of the investigation, Andy Flynn, and starts a relationship with him. It’s a common subplot in mysteries (at least in ones written by women) to have the main character meet a detective who’s tall, dark-haired, ruggedly handsome and conveniently single (or in this case, divorced). However, in this book, the detective gets into trouble for having a relationship with a witness and nearly loses his job as a result.

Makedde is different from other models as she’s a PHD student in forensic psychology and the daughter of a police detective. She takes self defence classes and carries makeshift weapons in her handbag. None of this helps her, however, as she not only fails to identify the serial killer but nearly becomes his next victim, only just being rescued in time by Andy. It’s a bit of a disappointment. Usually, when a character investigates a murder, she gets closer and closer to the truth and finally identifies the murderer, but Makedde only makes half hearted attempts to investigate and doesn’t learn anything useful. Also, a character who has special skills or knowledge usually uses them to help her at some point. To have her boyfriend rescue her instead seems rather clichéd, and out of keeping with the otherwise feminist tone of the book.

Tara does a lot of research for her novels. The biography at the front of the book says that she’s visited the FBI academy in America, talked to the LAPD and gone to conferences on polygraphs, psychopathy and criminology. It seems to be an expectation these days that anyone writing crime fiction should do these sorts of things. Whether it’s really necessary is open to question, but it surely makes for an interesting life. Presumably, the details in this novel are accurate, such as the description of the Glebe morgue and the explanation of psychopaths, though I don‘t particularly want to check them. The murders are quite gruesome but fortunately, aren’t described in detail.

Fetish is typical of the sort of murder mysteries being published these days, both in Australia and overseas. It’s full of gritty realism and plot twists and will keep you guessing until the end.

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