Over the course of seven books and seven fiendishly complicated cases investigated by the Spilling police force we have had some ups and downs. There have been more fabulous stories, and even when there have been flaws they have been balanced by good things that have stopped the lows being too low.
Until now. There are good things in The Carrier, but they were weighed down by things that weren’t so good, and things that just didn’t work.
The premise was, as always, far-fetched and brilliant:
When her plane was delayed overnight, successful businesswoman Gaby Struthers stepped in to calm a young woman, an inexperienced traveller, who was distressed by the situation. They shared a hotel room, and as they spoke Gaby realised that Lauren was scared of her. She had no idea why.
And then Lauren began to speak about an innocent man who was going to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Gaby slowly realised that she was talking about the man she loved and lost.
Tim Breary had left his wife for Gaby, but something had gone horribly wrong between them, and when his wife suffered a devastating stroke he went home.
Now Francine was dead, Tim had confessed to her murder, and Lauren, her carer, insisted that he was innocent.
That was a set-up with potential.
But I struggled from the start, because I couldn’t find anyone to identify with.
Usually I find Sophie Hannah’s heroines intriguing: capable women faced with extraordinary situations, who want to find out, and who may not be entirely reliable. Gaby fitted the mould, but she was a little too cool, a little too capable, and it was a little too obvious that she wasn’t telling all that she knew.
And there was no one else. Everyone involved in the Breary case was holding something back, and worse I didn’t believe in any of them. Not the characters, and definitely not the relationships.
Why did Tim marry, stay with, return to, a ghastly, manipulative woman like Francine? Why did his friends, Kerry and Dan, turn their own lives upside-down to support them? What did Gaby stay in a relationship with Sean, when they didn’t even like each other?
I have no answers. What I do have is a feeling that Sophie Hannah wanted to write about abusive relationships, but if that was the case she compromised that by working those stories into an ineffective crime story.
There were dialogues, interrogations, and letters written to a woman who would never be able to read them, that were psychologically pitch-perfect, and utterly readable, and there were moments when I was intrigued.
But the plot didn’t expand and grow; there weren’t the twists and turns that I had expected. Just one dramatic event near the end of the book, which was effective but a little forced.
And the business of ‘The Carrier’ was a bit of a side-issue. I suspect it was there to allow the author to thread her love of poetry though the story, and she did it well but it felt like a distraction, something else sitting where the development of the story and the characters should have been.
There were ideas that went undeveloped, there were loose ends, but I held on, in hope, until the very end.
The final resolution to the story was right.
But it made me realise that there was a simpler story, a story of dysfunctional relationships, a story of a particular type of crime, trying to get out of this rather large, rather messy book.
It leaves me wondering of Sophie Hannah is bored with the kind of books she’s writing, and if she wants to write something different. If that is the case, I wish she would. I loved the books she wrote before she turned to crime fiction, and I even can remember being disappointed that she had gone down that route when I first spotted ‘Little Face.’
And look how well moving away from crime fiction – albeit of a very different kind – has served Kate Atkinson!
But whatever Sophie Hannah writes next I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, because while the ‘The Carrier’ is a disappointing book Sophie Hannah is still an interesting author.