Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sophie Hannah and Lasting Damage

Sophie Hannah is a poet who turned to crime fiction a few years ago and who has achieved enormous success. That success is, I think, due to two factors. First, the quality of her writing. Second, the quality of her plots. The combination is compelling.

Her gifts are evident in Lasting Damage. This is a chunky novel of psychological suspense which follows a similar pattern to that of her earlier books. We are presented with a bizarre situation by a female narrator who may or may not be reliable, and the mystery is investigated by a team including Hannah's regular detectives, Charlie and Simon, who have just got married. The first and third person perspectives are maintained throughout the story.

In the small hours one morning, a woman logs onto a property website in search of a particular house in Cambridge. While on a "virtual tour", she sees a woman face down on the carpet, in a huge pool of blood. She wakes her husband, but when he looks at the computer, there is no sign of any corpse.

Sophie Hannah uses, as it seems to me, some of the devices of the classic impossible crime mystery and brings them bang up-to-date. Of course, as with any paradoxical or impossible crime story, whether written by Chesterton, John Dickson Carr or Hannah, the reader needs to suspend disbelief. But I thought the premise was brilliant, although I felt that the book could easily have been shortened leading to cutting down on some of the very extensive dialogue.

Pleasingly, my new firm has a reading group, and this book was its latest choice. Some of the group members, who are not steeped in detective fiction, were sharply critical of the novel, which I found rather sobering. My own view is that, despite its length, this was an entertaining mystery written by one of our most talented current practitioners.


6 comments:

cfr said...

Sorry, Martin, but this sounds like you are aiming for an overall positive feedback/result to this post's contents?

Let the readers say 'Aye' or not as the case may be, given you asked.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

How interesting that your group members were so critical of the novel - did they find it too incredible, or just not very well written?

I haven't read any of Sophie Hannah's books, although I do have The Point of Rescue sitting on my bookshelves. I did start it a while back, but didn't like her style of writing in the first person present tense. I always have a problem with that - it unsettles me too much to relax into the story. Are all her books like that?

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Oh, I'm happy to hear you've a reading group in your firm. I'm sure that enriches your work life. Must look into something of the kind where I work...

Deb said...

I don't like to be negative, but I'm with some of the members of your reading group. I've read a couple of Sophie Hannah's books and have disliked them immensely for things major (enormous plot holes, women doing extremely stupid things that put them in great peril, the deux ex machina in the form of a conveniently discovered diary) and minor (one book I read had three characters with incredibly similar names another had several characters whose names begun with the same letter). I think she comes up with some really crackerjack premises, but then fails to deliver.

Dorte H said...

My, Charlie and Simon did get round to that marriage? ;)

I have read five of Hannah´s novels, and on the whole I agree that her plots are compelling. The fifth, "A Room Swept White", did not live up to my expectations, but four out of five is not bad, and as you enjoyed this one so much, I´m sure I´ll also like it.

Martin Edwards said...

As ever, many thanks for your comments. Margot, yes, go for it, it's like a breath of fresh air! Mind you, I remain surprised that a bestseller - by definition popular - should get a largely negative response. I've not read A Room Swept White, Dorte.