Crime Fiction Alphabet: O is for Other

I bought a copy of The Other Half Lives a couple of years ago. I started reading, and then I stopped. Because even for Sophie Hannah, queen of the seemingly impossible scenario, this one just seemed a little too unlikely.

In a London hotel room Ruth and Aidan agree to share their deepest, darkest secrets.

“It doesn’t have to be everything. Just … as much as we can … “

She tells him that years ago she did something wrong to a woman and a man. She was punished excessively, and she has never recovered from it. She is too distressed to say any more.

He tells her that he killed a woman.

She is stunned.

He says that her name was Mary Trelease.

She is confounded. She has met Mary Trelease and she knows that she is not dead.

So why does Aidan insist that he has killed her?

Second time around I read this opening more carefully. I saw that both Ruth and Aidan were complex, damaged characters. That both had clearly left much unsaid. I was intrigued.

Both Ruth and Aidan approached the police. She went to Charlie Zailer and he went to Simon Waterhouse, and so Sophie Hannah’s recurring characters from the Culver Valley Police Force were drawn into the story.

Those recurring characters have grown on me, but the balance between them and the particular story never seems quite right. Once the main story gets going it’s not an issue at all, but this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed a rather long diversion away from the main plot early in a novel, that hasn’t added too much value.

But after that diversion the story was off and running, and I was very definitely hooked.

The continued existence of Mary Trelease was swiftly proved, but she was a very strange woman and both Charlie and Simon was both sure that there was something amiss. And so, although there was no case to investigate, investigate they did.

Their stories are mixed with Ruth’s first person account to fine effect.

Initially the story moves slowly, with the case focused on Ruth, Aidan and Mary. I couldn’t say that I like any of them, but I believed in them and I was intrigued. It was clear that all three had secrets and I wanted to know what those secrets were.

Eventually the story opened out and all of those secrets would be revealed.

A positively labyrinthine and perfectly paced plot twisted that way and that. Eventually it built to a very clever ending. An ending that explained everything, and it was psychologically complex and true.

I have deliberately said very little about the plot, because there is nothing I can say without giving too much away. But I think I should warn that it is very dark in places.

Sophie Hannah has pulled off her usual trick of making me believe the unbelievable because her characters are psychologically spot on. And because as the revelations came I could understand each one a little better.

Three distinctive, flawed, complex characters. One in particular will haunt me.

Fine writing and excellent plotting held everything together. The book was long, but there was always something to keep me hanging on, keep me turning the pages.

I spotted a few of the author’s trademarks. I spotted quite a few cliches of the genre. But it didn’t matter.

An unbelievable story held me, because it’s author made me want to believe.

*****

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

And so in two weeks time, after a break for Easter, P is for … ?

10 responses

  1. As with all of Hannah’s work, I think each book is an individual masterpiece and this is one of my favourites. However, I do wish she would try her hand at something different. It doesn’t have to move her away from crime fiction, just from the same old recurring pattern.

    • I wouldn’t quite say masterpiece, but the plotting in this one was particularly clever and the scenario so offbeat.

      But I’m ready for something different too. Something psychological without a police investigation maybe?

    • Sophioe hannah isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but if a complex puzzle and interesting characters appeal I’d definitely give her a try.

  2. I haven’t read any of Sophie Hannah’s books, although I have one – The Point of Rescue (maybe I’ll read it for the letter P). I did start it a while back but wasn’t too taken with it.

    It sounds as though her books are an acquired taste?

    • I started with Point of Rescue – not realising that there was a serial element – and loved it, but I think she is an acquired taste. I knew her style from her earlier non-crime novels, and they were good enough for me to give her the benefit of the doubt, which may have helped.

    • It’s the characters Staci! They were so believable that I had to carry on and find out what on earth was going on.

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