I love Sophie Hannah’s books. She writes witty, twisty-turny psychological thrillers with a hint of humour. Her characters are brilliantly complex and captivating. But the reviews on websites such as Goodreads and Amazon do dip for this novel, and I can see why.
The premise is extremely promising. Savvy business woman Gaby is delayed on the way back from her latest business trip and ends up having to spend the night with a complete stranger named Lauren. Lauren is a young care assistant who is the polar opposite to Gaby in almost every way; where Gaby is cool, calm and collected, Lauren is emotional and aggressive. Gaby narrates their meeting with an underlying air of conceit and sarcasm and it’s very entertaining to read. But it all takes a more sinister twist as Lauren confesses to letting an innocent man go to prison for murder and, surprise surprise, the man in question is a man very close to Gaby’s own heart, Tim Breary – the one that got away.
Once safely back in the UK Gaby sets about to get to the bottom of her encounter with Lauren and goes straight to the police with what she’s heard. She’s determined to free Tim, but her plans are scuppered when she learns that he has already confessed to the murder, which happens to be of his ex-wife.
Gaby’s story is intermingled with our old friends, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, who are still muddling through their unusual marriage whilst trying to get to the bottom of the Breary case. Gaby isn’t the only one who’s convinced Tim didn’t do it – Simon is too. There’s something suspicious about the stories from the witnesses – Lauren Cookson, Jason Cookson, Kerry Jose and Dan Jose – who all lived with Tim and Francine at the elegant mansion, Dower House. But what can you do when a man is insisting on his own guilt?
Gaby and Simon’s investigations – one in line with and one outside of the law – are interspersed with a series of letters which were written from Dan and Kerry to Francine, Tim’s late wife. These letters gradually reveal the true nature of Tim and Francine’s marriage and it isn’t a pretty picture. Hannah deftly captures the bitterness and resentment of an unhappy relationship, the subtle psychological abuse and the dark side of the human psyche.
The story loses its way a little in the middle, but it picks up near the end. The explanation of Francine’s death was intricate and ingenious, but there were some loose ends in the story which I felt weren’t cleared up as well as they could be. It was difficult to understand a lot of the character’s motivations, and therefore to empathise with them. That having been said, it was still an enjoyable read and I’ll definitely be reading her new novel, The Telling Error as soon as I can get my hands on it.