Do No Harm by Carol Topolski

Do No Harm

Five words from the blurb: gynaecologist, family, alone, bad, dark

Last year I read Carol Topolski’s debut novel, Monster Love, and was impressed by the powerful insight into the mind of a child abuser. Her second novel, Do No Harm, is much more accomplished in terms of structure, but its subltly means I am less likely to remember it than its deeply flawed predecessor.

Do No Harm centres on Virginia, a highly respected gynaecologist, who has secret violent tendencies. The book does an outstanding job of getting inside the head of an individual who appears perfectly normal on the surface, but is in fact thinking terrible things.

Carol Topolski does an amazing job of creating an entire cast of realistic characters. Even those who only appear for a brief time are fully formed and believable. I know very few writers who are capable of creating such a diverse range characters and I think this can be put down to her career as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. She really understands what makes people tick and it is a joy to be transported into the minds of so many different people.

The book can be quite confusing as it flips forwards and backwards in time. Events are seen through the eyes of numerous different people, including Virginia’s parents, friends and work colleagues, and it sometimes takes a while to work out who is narrating each section. I’m sure this was deliberate and it did lead to some interesting mistakes on my part – I particularly liked the section early in the book where I assumed she was viciously murdering someone, when in fact she was just preparing a roast dinner!

I’d describe this as a compelling character study rather than a crime novel. The truth about Virginia is slowly revealed over the course of the book, but as so many little hints are left along the way it was never surprising to learn them.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the mindset of those who commit crimes and I look forward to following the rest of Carol Topolski’s writing career.


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