Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Precious Blood"

Jonathan Hayes is an English freelance writer living in New York City, a career forensic pathologist, a Senior Medical Examiner in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manhattan, and a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel Precious Blood, and reported the following:
Page 69, Precious Blood:

scale were illegible. Jenner suspected the Pittsburgh team had better images.

He skipped through the opening sequence of front door (no force marks), unremarkable living room perspective, unremarkable stairway perspective, unremarkable dining room perspective, tabbing quickly through the images until he reached the kitchen door.

With the door shut, there was little hint of the carnage within – no wonder that responding officer had almost called it in as nothing. There was a small spot of blood at knee level on the kitchen door, but there was no blood on the frame, nor on the paneling on the side of the stairway nor on the wall or the big plate cabinet on either side of the hallway. He flicked back to the shot of the inside of the front door, also clean. Then forward into the kitchen.

Her body was naked, belly down, arms splayed, legs half-crossed. There was an arc of blood spatter low on the counter cabinet near the trunk, and the upper torso lay in a large puddle of maroon to brown blood that spread across the floor. There were thinner smears around the floor, ugly little skids in dry brown clot.

In the closer shots, the backs of her legs were clean, with some smeared blood on the posterior torso, probably from when he’d undressed her. It was likely that he’d killed her in that position, been on her back as he cut her throat from behind, like sacrificing an animal, arterial blood spurting sideways from the left carotid, bleeding out forward onto the floor underneath her.

He would have stayed behind her to sever the head, lifting her up and back with his palm under her chin as he worked on separating it.

Jenner could see no ligature marks on legs or arms.

He moved forward in the sequence. There was a surprising amount of blood on the walls, not large droplets but fine spatter, almost mist. Dowling had said he’d cut her up: there must be injuries on the front of the body. A ceiling shot showed some more of the blood mist on the low pendant lampshade, actually inside the shade.

And then the head, on the island in a coagulating lake of yellow/cream milk,

So, yeah, well… yikes! I don't think Precious Blood is particularly gory, but I'd agree that page 69 is pretty hardcore. In this scene, Jenner is examining a CD-ROM of crime scene photographs from a murder in rural Pennsylvania that he suspects is connected to the serial killer he's hunting in New York City.

Like me, Jenner is a forensic pathologist, and here he's doing something I've done many times. When you look at crime scene photos, you build a model of the death scene in your head, furnish it with bullet impact marks, decorate it with blood spatter, then figure out how the bodies must have moved to create this mark and that stain. At first, it's hard to know what you're really looking at; you start with an overview, then gradually refine it, noting the relative position of the body and the blood spatter, the color and thickness of the blood clot, etcetera – you try to get a sense of the forest before focusing on how they cut down the tree. Page 69 is a solid description of the way a forensic scientist thinks as he examines a death scene.

In Precious Blood, I've tried to show what it's like to do the work I do. One thing I wanted to express was something I see frequently: the unexpected, explosive punctuation of everyday life by intense violence. One night, back in the early 80's when I was a medical student in London, I was coming home from a Buzzcocks concert on one of the last trains of the night, filled with the usual riot of beery post-show types. There was a female punk holding a half-full beer mug, slouching against the partition by the doors. She looked up, saw a young student-y fellow looking at her, and said, "What you lookin' at?" Flustered, he started to stammer something. The train was pulling into the station; as the doors began to open, she smashed her mug against the partition, slashed his face, then ran. He reeled backward, hands pressed to his face as the blood poured between his fingers. I think of that moment often – him, her, how everything went wrong in under five seconds. In Precious Blood, violence suddenly slams into people, just like in real life.
Read an excerpt from Precious Blood -- or listen to an excerpt -- and learn more about Jonathan Hayes and his work at his website and the Precious Blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue