Killing Me Gently by Hazel McHaffie

Killing me gently

VelvetEthics Press|1 July 2019|390 pages|Review copy|4*

I’ve read two of Hazel McHaffie’s books in the past – Over My Dead Body and Inside of Me. In both books I was impressed by the way she weaves facts into her fiction so seamlessly that it doesn’t detract from the story. So, I was pleased when she asked if I would like to read her latest book, Killing Me Gently, her 11th published novel set in the world of medical ethics.

The story begins with a dramatic scene – in the middle of the night, in February, in complete darkness as Anya, feeling desperate and close to breaking point, runs alongside a fast flowing river:

Mud sucked greedily at her boots, branches tangled in her hair, exposed roots snaked across her path. The vicious swirl of the river drew her like a magnet down into the thick darkness, the dank odour of slowly decomposing vegetation.

Anya had no notion of time, only all-consuming compulsion to get as far away as possible from her tormentor. Several times she skidded wildly, once finding herself at the very brink, one false move away from those unforgiving rocks.

I was immediately drawn in – what has happened to make her so desperate? Who is she running from and who is tormenting her? Will she fall in – or is she trying to kill herself? I had to know.

The blurb expands more on Anya’s situation without giving away any spoilers: 

Blurb:

Anya Morgan has it all – beauty, brains, dream home, handsome husband, and now to complete the picture, a new baby. But Gypsy Lysette doesn’t conform to Anya’s criteria for perfection. Sleep deprived and insecure, she searches for solace and reassurance.

Leon Morgan is torn between supporting his paranoid wife and the demands of his job. Increasingly stressed, he starts to make mistakes, big mistakes, threatening the future of the family firm, jeopardising their marriage.

Tiffany Corrigan to the rescue; qualified nurse, mother of three, a fount of practical wisdom. She’s a shoulder to lean on when the crises escalate … when Gypsy is admitted to hospital … when the fingers start pointing … when suspicion and jealousy widen the rift between Anya and Leon.

Then inexplicable things start to happen. Frightening things. Baby Gypsy’s life as well as Anya’s sanity are under threat. Who is responsible? And will the professionals act in time to save this family from devastating loss?

It is an intense, emotional and dramatic psychological thriller. Hazel McHaffie trained as a nurse and a midwife, gained a PhD in Social Sciences and was Deputy Director of Research in the Institute of Medical Ethics and her expertise is reflected in this book. Her writing successfully conveys the stress Anya was under and the damage to their relationship that Anya and Leon experienced as their baby became ill and was admitted to hospital. Right from the first page I was completely gripped by the mystery – what was the cause of Gypsy’s illness and was it Anya’s fault?

It is so tense and at first it was hard to decide who could be trusted. The tension rises, so much so that I was convinced of the danger of the situation and I feared the worst. And even when I thought I had worked out what was actually happening to Gypsy, my heart was in my mouth as I read on. 

Killing me Gently raises ethical and moral questions about childcare and the relationship between the medical practitioners, social workers and parents, looking at it on a personal level. It is by no means a comfortable read, because it is both emotional and disturbing. However I was completely absorbed by the drama of it all.

Hazel McHaffie’s other novels cover medical ethic issues such as Alzheimer’s and the right to die. Her non-fiction books are about life and death decisions. For more details see her website. She also writes a most interesting blog.

My thanks to Hazel McHaffie for a copy of her book for review.

Inside of Me by Hazel McHaffie

I’ve read one of Hazel McHaffie’s books in the past – Over My Dead Body and was impressed by the way she weaves facts into her fiction so seamlessly that it doesn’t detract from the story. So, when she asked if I would like to read Inside of Me I didn’t hesitate to say yes please. And I wasn’t disappointed. I think this is an excellent book and once I started reading it I didn’t want to stop, keen to find out what was going to happen next.

Hazel McHaffie’s novels all cover medical ethics issues and the issues in Inside of Me concern body image, in particular, but not exclusively, about anorexia; identity, and relationships. There is also a mystery – teenage girls are going missing, the latest one being Maria aged sixteen, last seen walking alone along Regent’s Park Canal. Tonya Grayson is worried, no terrified is a better description, that her missing husband, Victor, could be involved. But the police are convinced he is dead; his clothes were found neatly folded in a beach, although his body was never found. India, their daughter, who was eight at the time, believes, even after seven years, that he is still alive, reinforced by hearing his voice in a crowded London station, the day after Maria was reported missing.

The narrative, told in the first person, switches between Tonya and India living in Scotland, and Chris, who works in a florist shop in London, mourning the loss of a daughter. Chris, after reading the newspaper report about the missing teenager, spots Maria at a local car boot sale, offers to help and ends up taking her home, anxious about her safety.

India is anorexic, but won’t accept the truth, either that her father is dead or that she has a weight problem. Tonya tries to help her but cannot get through to her and for most of the book seems completely out of her depth, unable to move forward herself. She is plagued with doubts about Victor and his relationship with India, which had been very close. India’s best friend, Mercedes is also obsessed with her weight and encourages India both to find her father and to take even more drastic ways to gain her target weight.

Hazel McHaffie has got right inside each character’s mind, making this a compelling and convincing story. And it is a gripping story, easy to read, but by no means a comfortable read, in turns emotional and troubling. It conveys the complex dilemmas of living with eating disorders, problems with body image and difficult family relationships, issues with control and coping with emotional disturbance, obsessions and compulsive behaviour. Added to all this there is the mystery of what happened to Victor – his pile of clothes on the beach reminded me of Reginald Perrin (from the TV series  in the 1970s). I think it is a wonderful book and I don’t think I’ve read another novel like it. I’ve only touched its surface in this post!

  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: VelvetEthics Press (5 Mar. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 099262312X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0992623128
  • Source: Review copy from the author

Hazel McHaffie is a Scottish author. For details of her background and qualifications as a nurse, midwife, PhD in Social Sciences and Research Fellow in Medical Ethics see her website, where she also lists her awards, life changing experiences, and more personal stuff such as her character traits, addictions (including good books), and hobbies. She also writes a most interesting blog.

Over My Dead Body by Hazel McHaffie

Over My Dead Body by Hazel McHaffie is a novel that raises questions such as would you be an organ donor, or agree to donating your child’s heart, or eyes. I’ve never read a novel that considered these issues, so when Hazel McHaffie contacted me and asked if I would read and review her book it didn’t take me long to write back, ‘yes please’. She is very well qualified to write such a book – a nurse and midwife, with a PhD in Social Sciences, and a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics.

Synopsis (from Hazel McHaffie’s website):

Carole Beacham is in her mid-sixties and planning to leave her husband. Before she can do so her daughter, Elvira, and two little granddaughters are involved in a fatal road traffic accident. Then a stranger appears in the Intensive Care Unit claiming to be Elvira’s boyfriend, insisting Elvira wanted to donate her organs. But Carole has her own reasons for rejecting such a possibility: a dark family secret which has been hidden for thirty years.

She’s torn in two, but gradually her need to respect Elvira’s wishes overcomes her fear, and the transplants go ahead. Letters from grateful recipients bring comfort and Carole’s dread recedes. Then the barriers created to safeguard anonymity start to slip. A troubling communication from a publishing firm €¦ a moving poem from a teenager €¦ an ambitious would-be journalist €¦ and the family’s peace is in grave danger.

My view:

This is a fascinating, compassionate and informative book, the factual information fitting seamlessly into the narrative. The characters are realistic, so much so that at times I had to stop reading because their predicaments and situations were so poignant and difficult.

I’m familiar with some of the issues surrounding transplants, having watched Casualty and Holby City for years. But there is nothing to beat reading a book written by someone who knows the issues, writes with sensitivity and can go into much more depth than an isolated incident in a TV drama series can. The story is told through a number of the characters’ eyes and poses the questions, thoughts and fears they each have about organ transplants – from both the recipients’ and the donor families’ points of view. Carole fears that her daughter could recover or they could find a miracle cure and it would be too late to bring her back. Some people are worried about the personalities of the recipients – do they deserve the transplant, is their lifestyle healthy enough and so on.

Above all it is a moving story, well-told and with an element of mystery – just what is it in Elvira’s background that causes her family concern? From little hints that were dropped I guessed what it was, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. Over My Dead Body certainly gave me much to think about.

Hazel McHaffie’s other novels cover medical ethic issues such as Alzheimer’s and the right to die. Her non-fiction books are about life and death decisions.