Part I: The Mystery or the Novel, That is the Question.
I just finished reading my first Sophie Hannah novel. In a sense, The Cradle in the Grave is a traditional mystery series. There are two detectives, Sgt. Charlotte (Charlie) Zailer and Sgt. Simon Waterhouse, that have appeared in all her novels since Little Face.
In another sense, Hannah's novel is anything but traditional. Like Kate Atkinson and Tana French, Hannah plays with the structure of the mystery novel. For one thing, Hannah takes much longer to play out the crimes, and spends a lot more time developing the characters. Fliss is half in love with her ex-boss Laurie, and this promotion has thrown off her friendship with her once colleague, now laid-off friend, Tamsin. The three accused women, Helen Yardley, Rachel (Ray) Hines, and Sarah Jaggard, all have very different stories. One of them, Ray, has befriended Judith Duffy, the doctor who testified that the children were murdered.
Until the story settles in, the story begins with several pieces of evidence--a news report, an interview with a suspect, and an excerpt from Helen Yardley's memoir, Nothing but Love. Yardley is perhaps the most notable of the three cases, having served prison time before having her case reversed, and her memoir is a vital piece of evidence, particularly when (and I'm not giving away anything more than the back jacket copy here) Helen is murdered.
As you know, I often suggest to folks that they read series novels in the order they were written, but there are exceptions. My former colleague Jack always reminded me to start folks reading Lee Child somewhere around book #5 and then let them revisit the older titles later, once they are into the series.
In the case of Sophie Hannah, it's something different. In many mystery novels, whoever else is in the book, the detective is the true protagonist. The victim, the accused, the next target, are all secondary. But Hannah really tries to bring the other characters to the fore; it could be argued that Fliss, the amateur trying to figure out what is going on as the detectives are also piecing together the puzzle, is the real protagonist here.
I've got some reviews for you in threes too. Here's Rebecca Armstrong in the Independent, meditating on the protagonists, which I have actually spent little time on: "Hannah has given Waterhouse rather more backbone than in his previous outing, even if he and Zailer's engagement is still as dysfunctional as ever. But it's this dysfunction that makes Hannah's characters so human. They're plagued with doubt, embarrassment and regret, living flawed lives as best they can." Read the whole review here.
Jeremy Jehu in the Telegraph posits that "Sophie Hannah has a poet’s eye, and she creates characters and settings of closely observed complexity in her psychological mysteries." More on their website.
I can't find the link, but Hannah has the Daily Express review on her website: "‘When it comes to ingenious plots that twist and turn like a fairground rollercoaster few writers can match Sophie Hannah. This complex and beautifully written tale kept me guessing right till the very last page."
Can I analyze this text any further? Sure I can! That's why tomorrow's blog post is about changing Sophie Hannah's titles for the American market. I've also put together a lovely jacket design for Nothing but Love, Helen Yardley's memoir. And don't forget--Sophie Hannah is at Boswell on Monday, September 19, 7 pm.