The Telling Error by Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah has an extraordinary talent. She takes an array of fine ingredients:

  • Complex, believable heroines.
  • Unusual, seemingly impossible, crimes.
  • Thought-provoking, contemporary concerns

And she ties them up into complex knots that appear impossible to undo, before throwing the whole thing up into the air with a flourish and having it land as a clear picture, that you could never have foreseen but that you have to accept makes perfect sense.

That makes distinctive and compelling crime fiction.

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I had decided that I wasn’t going to rush to read this book, after being horribly disappointed by the book that preceded it. But I wavered when I saw it, because so many of the books before that were very, very good. It seemed that it might be a return to form …..

Yes, I think it is a return to form, but not to her very best. Not quite.

The crime scene is striking.

An opinionated newspaper writer has been found dead, bound and gagged, on a chair in front the computer in his home office. A knife has been taped over his mouth and the words “HE IS NO LESS DEAD” have been written on the wall.

It fell to Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse and his colleagues in the Culver Valley police force to investigate.

First they spoke to his wife, who had stumbled into the crime scene with a cup of tea. She said that she had heard nothing, because she had been in another part of the house with the radio on, leaving her husband with the peace he wanted to work. And she said that she was sure  that the murder is linked to the fact that her husband never really loved her; she knew that, even  though he had played that role of loving, caring doting husband to perfection.

The dead man’s columns lead the police to a number of suspects.

  • An athlete who was a drug cheat.
  • A rival pundit accused of hypocrisy
  • A bestselling author who has behave badly
  • A former MP, charged with hypocrisy too.

But the most interesting of all of the suspects was Nicki Clements, a married mother of two, and the woman that the story spun around.

When the police were stopping traffic outside the crime scene she did a U turn to avoid them, because she didn’t want a particular police officer to see her. She took longer routes several times that day, between her home and her children’s school, to avoid that particular road. And of course that was noticed. She might not be guilty of murder, but she was definitely guilty of something.

Nikki is  a wonderfully-realised character: a woman with an unhappy past, with difficult family relationships, with a gap in her life that she tries to fill her online. That leads her into no end of trouble ….

‘The Telling Error’ is a wonderful puzzle, mixed up with analysis of modern marriage, of celebrity culture, and of social media – very much a book of the here and now.

It was the eclectic cast of characters who made the story work. Each had their own story, their own mystery, and they had such psychological depth. They weren’t likeable, but they were fascinating. And horribly believable.

The police characters were on the back burner this time around, and the story was much the better for it.

It seems impossible that there will be a solution that explains everything, but there is. And there were revelations along the way that made the story twist and turn, and increases the intrigue. The explanation for Nikki’s U turn was particularly striking.

One or two points stretched credulity too far, but when so many things are done so well I can forgive that quite easily.

I was gripped from the first page to the last, and I will be rushing to grab a copy of whatever Sophie Hannah writes next.

9 responses

  1. I haven’t read this author before, but I enjoy reading good crime fiction/mysteries. Do you have a favorite book of hers? Or can you recommend which one I should read first? Thanks for such a great review!

    • Little Face was the first and it wouldn’t be a bad place to start, but there’s little interest in the ongoing police characters so there’s no need to worry too much about series order. The Carrier was a dud and I wouldn’t be inclined to start with A Room Swept White. Otherwise I’d say go with whichever book appeals – my favourites are Lasting Damage and Point of Rescue.

    • I’d say that there’s no need to read in series order – the ongoing relationships of the police characters are very much secondary and less interesting than the stand-alone main stories. My favourites are The Point of Rescue and Lasting Damage, but other than The Carrier – which was disappointing – and A Room Swept White – which isn’t typical – I’d say try whichever book comes your way or whichever synopsis most appeals.

      • Thanks, Fleur! I keep seeing her name and her books sound like the kind of thing I’d enjoy so I’ll take a look at the ones you’ve mentioned and as you suggest see which blurb appeals…

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