I'm back to book reviewing and I couldn't be happier. If it's relevant (i.e. there are lots of twists and turns), within my reviews I'm going to do a couple of paragraphs with no spoilers that summarise how I feel about a book, and then for those who have read the book or just want my full thoughts, a second clearly marked spoiler section will also be available. That way I get to write proper reviews but also don't spoil anything for those of you who don't want to know!
This was the first of this year's Booker Prize longlisters that I read, and boy, was I disappointed. I found it to be a relatively engaging read, but I just don't know what was particularly special about this novel, and I thought it was pretty uneven throughout. I know that crime writer Val McDermid was on the panel for this year's judges, and she quite rightly must have insisted on a choice from this often overlooked genre, but why this book?
Let's start with what I liked, namely that first chapter. One of the most suspenseful and chilling first chapters I've come across. It opens with 11-year-old Jack sat on the hard shoulder of a motorway on a boiling hot day with his two little sisters, waiting for his mother to come back from the emergency telephone which is out of sight. My first few notes on the book were pretty complimentary because of the skill clearly on show in this opening chapter, and I desperately wanted the rest of the book to live up to it. The second chapter continued to keep most of this tension, though it introduced one of my least favourite characters in Catherine While.
After the first two chapters, the book really drops off, and even more so after the first hundred pages, mostly because there's a dogged emphasis on local burglaries as opposed to the murder case. Each small revelation became quite predictable a few chapters before it happened, which ended up being disappointing. I don't know a huge amount about crime novels and I don't read many of them (but I want recommendations below please!! That first chapter gave me a thirst for a good crime that this novel just didn't fulfil), but I don't really like when the killer is revealed halfway through the book, and the remainder is just about catching them. It seems to me that the fun of it is in keeping the reader second guessing!
There's a strange latent misogyny throughout the whole book which confused me a bit, especially the depiction of pregnant Catherine, who has perpetual 'baby brain' to the point of sheer idiocy. She is patronisingly depicted throughout and I found it a bit uncomfortable, especially when combined with the attitudes of both the male police officers (particularly toward their female colleague).
It had various unbelievable parts and character choices, but I'm generally ready to accept those in something like crime if it furthers the suspense of the story. I was initially willing to overlook the stereotypical grumpy police officer and his complete lack of respect for the law, Jack's strange living situation (whereby he manages to get away with living alone with his two younger sisters, none of them going to school or leaving the house much for three years after their father leaves them in grief… oh and who Jack knows is the homeless man begging in the town centre the whole time???), and Catherine's staunch refusal to tell the police about someone threatening to kill her. However, when it became clear that this wasn't the story I was expecting, I found these things more irritating.
Ultimately I wanted more from this read, and like I said I'm completely baffled as to why it's on the longlist this year. Nonetheless, I'm going to keep an eye out for a good crime novel now, and if you have any you love, let me know.