In a recent Twitter conversation with the author, I lamented that ITV have chosen to adapt her books featuring Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse out of publication order, thereby ignoring the arc of the two police detectives throughout the series. What I neglected to mention is that I had read them out of publication order. I started with book 5, A Room Swept White, but this was inadvertent. I was intrigued by the premise and its eerie cover. I then backtracked and read books 1 and 2, Little Face and Hurting Distance, adding the rest of the books in the series to my ever growing “to read” list. And now here I am, jumping straight into book 7, without so much as a by your leave. Those pesky Kindle sales, what can I tell you?
My most favourite thing about reading a mystery/thriller/suspense/crime novel is having the author begin with just a few dots and spread them on such a gigantic canvas, that I simply cannot imagine how those dots will be joined up. In that regard, this book is a doozy. Amber Hewerdine has been driven to the edge by 18 months of insomnia, so she turns to a hypnotherapist to help her get some sleep. Under hypnosis, when asked for a memory, Amber finds herself saying “Kind, cruel, kind of cruel” for no reason she can fathom. And a few hours later, that phrase finds her arrested in connection with a murder of someone she’s never even heard of…..
The novel is told from alternating perspectives. Both Amber and her hypnotherapist relate their chapters in the first person, all of it interspersed with third person chapters centring on the police investigation and the personal lives of Waterhouse’s team. The plot thickens with each chapter for around half of the book, and then a fair chunk is spent dealing with plot points which, if you haven’t read the previous novels, mean very little. This is a little frustrating since the plot is one of the most deliciously complex ones Hannah has ever created (that I have read, I should add).
Where Hannah really excels for me is in her skilfully drawn characters. I identified a LOT with Amber, especially her amusingly impatient reactions to hypnotherapy, while other members of Amber’s extended family (there’s quite a large cast of characters) provoked equally strong but far less pleasant reactions in me. They are all fantastically three dimensional. In order to join the far flung dots, Hannah does chuck in a couple of plot twists which push disbelief suspension to its absolute limit, but by the time you get to it, it’s not the who that is really important, or the how. It’s the why. The who, by the time of its unveiling, isn’t a surprise. The how is grimly fascinating, it’s true. However, on this occasion, the why is a magnificent jaw dropper and left me chilled to the bone.