‘Body Language’ – Cassie Raven #1 by A. K. Turner

Camden mortuary assistant Cassie Raven has pretty much seen it all. But this is the first time she’s come face to face with someone she knows on the slab. Someone she cared about. Her friend and mentor, Mrs E.

Deeply intuitive and convinced that she can pick up the last thoughts of the dead, Cassie senses that there must be more to the ruling of an accidental death. Is her grief making her see things that aren’t there, or is her intuition right, and there’s something more sinister to her friend’s death than the ME thinks? 

Harbouring an innate distrust of the police, Cassie sets out to investigate and deliver justice to the woman who saved her life.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed ‘Body Language’ as much as I did. It swept me along, made me smile, and piqued my curiosity enough that I found myself looking forward to returning to it whenever I had to put it aside to deal with the demands of real life. At the end of the book, I thought, ‘I enjoyed that. I’m glad it’s the first book in a series. I’m already looking forward to the next one’.

The odd thing is that, from a content point of view, ‘Body Language’ shouldn’t have been a book that made me smile and feel better about the world. Much of the novel was spent with our main protagonist, Cassie Raven, slicing up dead bodies in an unglamorous morgue and most of the rest was spent trying to track down a disturbingly cold-blooded killer.

If ‘Body Language’ had a scent, it would be formaldehyde, decomp and tears and yet, as I read it, my main reaction was to feel uplifted and hopeful.

Some of that sense of hope comes from the fact that ‘Body Language’ isn’t a typical forensics lab thriller. Cassie Raven isn’t Kay Scarpetta or Temperance Brennan – high-profile, rich, preppy MEs with lots of letters after their names. She’s a mortuary assistant, not a Medical Examiner. She’s in Camden Town, a slightly bohemian, slightly disreputable, yet to be gentrified part of London, not some prestigious Institute in a rich State on America’s eastern seaboard. She’s bright but dropped out of school and has no degree. She’s from an immigrant Polish family, was raised by her gran, left home in her teens and lived in a squat. She dyes her hair bright colours and wears facial piercings.

What does she have going for her? An engaging blend of empathy, compassion, curiosity and a tendency towards rebellion. She’s good at noticing details a harassed or inexperienced coroner might miss. She knows how to support grieving family members as they identify their dead. She treats the dead in her care with respect. She always talks to them. And sometimes, in their way, she believes they talk back.

A lot of the book is a showcase to display Cassie Raven’s personality and reveal her backstory. This is done in a graceful and engaging way that is made more powerful because one of the bodies ‘speaking’ to Cassie is the teacher who motivated and supported Cassie to resume her education and leave her vulnerable, crusty, homeless life behind and put her intelligence to good use. As Cassie tries to find out what happened to her teacher, we find out a lot more about Cassie.

I liked the way the ‘the dead speak to me’ part of the book was managed. It can be read as ‘Cassie sees the dead and they communicate with her silently, seeking justice’ or as ‘Cassie is a deeply empathetic person with a strong need to know what happened to the bodies in her charge, strong observation skills and an intuitive problem-solving style that sometimes manifests as visions of the dead.’ I still don’t know which of those I’d pick and I enjoy the ambiguity.

There’s more to ‘Body Language’ that the Cassie Raven story. though. The plot is twisty, clever, surprising and plausible. The ensemble cast works well and there’s a promising ‘Odd Couple’ combination when Cassie has to influence the by-the-book, very conventional, very ambitious police officer who is in charge of the investigation into Cassie’s teacher’s death. I liked that the police officer had a good back story of her own and was more than a foil for Cassie.

I couldn’t make my mind up about how well the book succeeded in bringing Camden alive. A long long time ago, I lived further up the hill from Camden and I knew the area well, so it was easy for me to see Camden Market and Camden Lock in my head. I’m not sure how much someone who has never been there would get from the book. But then, thrillers mostly don’t bother to describe Manhattan in a way that a European who has never been there would understand. What does come across clearly is the energy of this part of town that still finds room for people who have more creativity than money and who come from such a wide variety of backgrounds that nothing and no one could seem out of place.

I’ve already bought ‘Life Sentence’ the next book in the series and ‘Where The Devil Can’t Go’, the first book in the series that A K Turner wrote under the name Anya Lipska.

I recommend the audiobook version of ‘Body Language’ narrated by Ellie Kendrick. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

A K Turner is a London-based writer and a producer of TV documentaries on crime and science topics, based in London.

As Anya Lipska she published a three-book crime series featuring Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ to East London’s Polish community, and DC Natalie Kershaw, a rookie detective, 

As A. K. Turner she is writing the Cassie Raven series about a crime-solving Goth-girl mortuary technician who talks to the dead and has published the first two: Body Language and Life Sentence.

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