Hen’s Teeth

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by Manda Scott

When Kellen Stewart gets a midnight call that her business partner and former lover is dead, it’s hard to believe.

Police assumptions that Bridget Donnelly died of either cardiac arrest or suicide are even harder to believe.

And the oddities keep unfolding. Six weeks earlier, Bridget’s brother Malcolm, a medical geneticist, had dropped off a basket of bantam chickens with a note promising to explain later. The next day, he was found dead in his office.

First Bridget, and now Bridget’s current partner Caroline Leader, want Kellen’s help finding out what really happened to Malcolm and Bridget.

Kellen turns to her medical school buddy, Lee Adams, once an obstetric surgeon and now a pathologist at Glasgow University’s hospital. Every effort Lee makes to get Malcolm’s post-mortem report and blood test results is thwarted. His body has disappeared into the donated cadaver system. Blood samples are gone. The post-mortem is bland and unenlightening.

Even though Lee does the autopsy on Bridget, a similar data wipe-out occurs there. Her body is cremated under another person’s name. Test results disappear.

This twisted tale unfolds as a combination murder mystery and medical thriller. Malcolm’s research holds the keys to the how and why; Kellen and Lee work like Amazons to uncover the who.

Two things make this book fun. First are the characters — Lee, raised by a tribe of crones on a remote Scottish island and then in Glasgow; Kellen, loyal in friendships but resistant to intimacy in relationships; and Inspector Stewart MacDonald, whose bumbling country constable image disguises a sharp mind, a strategic thinker and a keen observer of human nature.

And second are the boldness, strength and courage of Lee and Kellen. They have Ninja-like physical powers and never encountered a rule they wouldn’t break.

Many things test a reader’s credulity in this book, but never quite destroy fiction’s magic of suspending disbelief. There’s so much back story that is hinted at but never revealed, that it seems as if this book was intended to be the first of a series that never materialized.

Nearly all of the women characters are lesbians, which doesn’t matter for the story but does make keeping up with the network of past, current and about-to-be relationships between them all challenging — and ultimately mostly unimportant.

And lastly those chickens! Chickens being left on a front porch; chickens being stolen; chickens flying away; chickens needing a coop as tight as Fort Knox — all verge on the comic. Chicken eggs are important for the medical mystery at the heart of this book, but the absurdity of a bunch of cackling, egg-laying, feather-flying poultry nearly made me laugh as I read — not what the author intended, I’m sure.

I will say that I finished this book wishing for more from Kellen and Lee. There’s something magnetic about reading about strong women going after what they need when the powers that be ignore them.

Manda Scott also wrote the gripping spy thriller A Treachery of Spies. If you’re a fan of mysteries set in the moody cities of Scotland, check the post “Tartan Noir” out.

About the Author: Manda Scott (1962 – )

A former veterinarian, Manda Scott is now known for her crime and historical novels. Hen’s Teeth, her first published novel, was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize.

In addition to her stand-alone novels, she has written two series set in pre-Roman Britain (the Boudica series) and Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero.

You can learn more about Scott here.


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