Cannonball Read 7, Book 5: The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

2980614Normally, when I post a review of Hannah’s books on here and tweet the link, I’ll include her twitter handle. She gives good chat on there and also reads the reviews (she commented on something specific in one of mine, so it’s not like she was just all “oh thanks” about it). I won’t be doing it on this one, because holy fucking shit I thought this book was absolutely terrible.

Admittedly, I’ve read the books out of sequence, which doesn’t help matters. I started with book 5 in the series, went back and read books 1 and 2, jumped ahead and read books 7 and 8 and now am back here at book number 3. It’s very clear, given how much more I enjoyed the later books, that Hannah has, improved greatly as a writer. It also doesn’t help that I watched the TV adaptation of this a few years back and the TV writers really smoothed over a hell of a lot of cracks in the book.

The premise is a bloody good one though. Sally Thorne is a mother of two with a high stress job. She uses a cancelled work conference as an excuse to escape for a week from her life. She pretends to her husband it’s not cancelled and has a week in a spa hotel, where she ends up having a shagtastic time with a bloke called Mark Bretherick. The next time she hears that name is when his wife and daughter are found dead at home. Only, the Mark Bretherick on the news is not the man Sally Thorne spent her dirty week with…..

From there, the book goes somewhat off a cliff. Firstly, the characters are mostly ridiculous. I know a few mums, all of whom are juggling work and home life, none of whom seem to find it as impossibly difficult as Sally Thorne does. Her hysterically over the top reactions to pretty much everything to do with her job and her home life become very tiresome very quickly. There are too many police characters and expert witnesses, all of whom are a parade of stereotypes and caricatures. The only ones in any kind of focus are the main pair, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. And their relationship is maddening, nonsensical.

The reveal of whodunnit and why is protracted, repetitive, tiresome and wholly unconvincing. Having spent a VERY LONG TIME waffling on about all kinds of boring twaddle, a race to find a missing witness is rushed and fumbled. All in all, this book is an unholy mess and you’re well advised to skip it if you’ve started reading the series. Nothing happens to any recurring characters that is of any import. Life is too short.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 85: The Carrier by Sophie Hannah

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Sophie Hannah really is all about the dark and the dysfunctional. She specialises in twisted, complicated and frankly unpleasant plots, full of weird people you wouldn’t ever want to meet in real life. And that extends the majority of the police investigating the crimes at the centre of the plot. And The Carrier really is no exception there.

Gaby Struthers is a smart successful business woman and when her flight is delayed back from Dusseldorf, she finds herself sharing a hotel room with Lauren Cookson. Lauren is, to be polite, a little bit dim but she’s also massively highly strung. During one of many rows with Gaby, she blurts something out about an innocent man going to jail for murder. Gaby is intrigued and when she finds out that the murder victim was a woman called Francine Breary and the innocent man is her husband, the only man Gaby has ever loved. And so Gaby’s tightly controlled life goes off the rails as she tries to get to the bottom of who Cookson is and just how she ended up in Dusseldorf with her.

That half of the book is grimly fascinating stuff. What sends it off kilter is that alongside that, there’s a lot of extraneous flannel with the recurring police characters. There are whole chapters devoted to arguments between Charlie, her husband and her sister. It isn’t that interesting and Hannah seems to lose interest with it mid-chapter sometimes. And a strand dealing with the big boss and his daughter isn’t really resolved so much as it’s forgotten about. If the strand involving Charlie’s sister and her affair with one of Charlie’s ex-colleagues were to bite the dust, I wouldn’t shed a tear.

Gaby’s increasingly frantic investigation and the dreary police peeps are interspersed with a series of handwritten letters to Francine, from her husband’s two best friends, with whom they lived. See, Francine had a stroke at 41 and was left with Locked In Syndrome. Tim, the husband, is claiming he suffocated her with a pillow but doesn’t know why. Lauren is claiming he didn’t kill her, someone else did and Tim is covering for them. Between them, the letters and Gaby get to the bottom of exactly what went on the day Francine was killed. Suffice it to say that the denouement is almost unbearably bleak and will haunt you for days. That nobody really gets a happy ever after shouldn’t come as a surprise, really should it? For those reasons, it’s definitely worth reading, but if you skimmed through some of the less interesting bits, nobody would blame you.

Cannonball Read 5, Book 12: Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah

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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.