Review: Sophie Hannah – Kind of Cruel

I was talking about this crime fiction blog to someone recently and they asked me what I though of Sophie Hannah’s books. I then shuffled my feet and admitted that I hadn’t read anything by this writer for no other reason than I’d never got around to it. This week I rectified this omission and read Hannah’s latest book Kind of Cruel.

Amber Hewerdine visits a hypnotherapist in an attempt to cure her insomnia brought on my the death of her best friend, Sharon, in a fire. Amber and her husband Luke are now looking after Sharon’s two daughters but Amber is beset by anxieties that affect her sleep. She also obsessively revisits a fateful Christmas in 2003 when she stayed with her extended family in a house called Little Orchard. On Christmas morning four members of the family disappeared for 24 hours and have refused to speak about it ever since.

Not long after her visit to the psychotherapist, Amber is questioned over the murder of a woman she has never met before. The murder appears to be motiveless and the only clue police can find is the imprint of the words ‘kind, cruel, kind of cruel’ on a notepad in the victim’s house. When Amber mutters these words in front of policewoman connected to the case she immediately falls under suspicion.

Clearly I’ve made a mistake not trying Sophie Hannah’s books before because I found this book a compelling read. The novel is written predominantly from the point of view of Amber who is presented as a slightly unreliable narrator who is keeping a secret from her husband that we as readers are also not party to. Over the course of the book we become aware that she has suspicions about the true nature of her saintly sister-in-law Jo, who seems to hold the answer to the Christmas disappearance. But no link can be found between Amber and the murder of both her friend Sharon and the primary school teacher Kat Allen.

About a third of the way through the book, there were so many strands to this narrative I couldn’t work out how Hannah could possible bring them all together. Although the story unfolds gradually the whole picture is only revealed in the last twenty pages or so. I had to go back and reread this section as I was so overloaded with information but it didn’t spoil for me what had been a fascinating story.

The book reminded me in many ways of the novels of Barbara Vine and the psychological unravelling of the characters was helped in this book by the insertions of the hypnotherapist’s observations. These sections too were very well written and gave the book a slightly eerie feel. I liked the characters of the police, especially the clearly damaged Simon Waterhouse. My only criticism would be these characters have clearly appeared in previous books and it took me a while to work out who was who.

I thought Kind of Cruel was an excellent read and I’m definitely going to be reading more of Sophie Hannah. I think she’s a good example of how a compelling story can be combined with high quality writing.

I received  copy of this book from the publisher. Other reviews can be found at Eurocrime, Petrona and Shots.

The author’s website is here.

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19 thoughts on “Review: Sophie Hannah – Kind of Cruel

  1. I’ve only read two of Hannah’s, one I really liked an done I didn’t like at all. Sounds like I should try this one!

  2. Sarah – Oh, I think Sophie Hannah does a solid job with creating unreliable narrators. Some of her novels are very, very good reads and it sounds as though this one is one of those. I’ll confess I’ve not yet read this one but I should.

  3. I think this is one of her better ones, so glad you tried it first. I find her a “polarising” author. She’s a very good writer with that “I must read on” ability that so few can induce in the reader. She creates interesting, original characters and situations. The police procedural aspects seem dire, though. And the plots often turn out to be daft and illogical. For me, there were definitely elements of daftness and illogicality about the outcome, when we finally heard it, here. But I did enjoy the book & especially the character of Amber.

    • Thanks Maxine. I know what you mean about some of the mysterious events. They turn out to have fairly mundane explanations, for example the mysterious locked room. I didn’t have a problem with this as I was worried there was going to be a supernatural explanation and I didn’t fancy this at all, even though I do have a few favourite authors who writer supernatural thrillers.

  4. Thanks for a good review Sarah. To my shame I have only read one Sophie Hannah book which I didn’t like very much and scan-read a manuscript to review in 24 hours so thanks to your review I think I may have to give her another try. Darn, another author to add to my teetering TBR pile!

    • Sorry about that 😉 It’s nice once in a while to read a book you can’t put down but I wouldn’t want this to happen every time I pick up a book or nothing else would get done.

  5. I hate to admit this but I am yet to read SH too. Just not got around to doing so yet. Andrew Taylor recently gave her the ‘thumbs up’ to me, so now I feel more compelled to do so. Ditto for your review here, Sarah. I feel aggrieved daily that I have so many authors I am still to try and books from authors I am still to try numbers 2 or 3 or 4 in their oeuvre. Why can I not find more time to achieve this? Yours resignedly, CFR.

    • Yes I agree Rhian. I still have a number of v famous authors to read and shame prevents me from naming them here. I’m glad I tried Sophie Hannah though.

  6. I agree that some of SH’s books are excellent and others seem to start brilliantly and then get increasingly ridiculous. Charlie and Simon are great characters though and it’s worth reading the series from the beginning to see their relationship evolve. It is hard to read them in order, though, as there never seems to be an indication of where each book comes in the series (gah).

  7. I have one book by Sophie Hannah – ‘The Point of Rescue.’ I’ve started to read it twice and gave up – I didn’t like the opening chapter with the awful little monster children and it’s written in the present tense, which didn’t make me want to read on. Maybe I should try ‘Kind of Cruel’.

  8. Interesting book review. I’ve read two books by Sophie Hannah and didn’t like them. I need to like one character in a book and that did not happen. I don’t know if I’ll try again, but it is good to read various viewpoints about an author or a book. We all find different things to like or dislike in books and we
    all have our own taste. Glad to see fans of this book.

    • Thanks Kathy. I think I struck lucky with my first Sophie Hannah as this does seem to be one of her best books. I will go back and read others in her series though as I liked the police characters.

  9. Pingback: The Best of August’s Reading « crimepieces

  10. Well, i would really say that title of the book has more relevance to what the reader might feel after reading the book then it having much to do in the story itself.

    I really wonder if “Psychological” thriller means reading pages after pages about the protagonist thought process, making very little sense to the reader and wondering whether i am reading case file of a psychlolgist.

    80% of the book is devoted to problems of Amber and in the end very little gets explained of its reasons and origins.

    Even the police investigation part further dwells on the thought process of various cops, again making very little logical sense to the whole plot.

    In fact, the plot itself is much blurry throughout the book as one wonders whether what Amber says and believes is actually true or not?

    Last 70 pages bring to light a complete new twist to the plot and Amber is shown living happily after, leaving reader to guess if the problems of Amber were real or her imaginations? As it disappears from the climax without a trace.

    As you can possibly make out by now that i am terribly disappointed in having reading the book and also with numerous other critics who gave it a thumbs-up and lured me into reading this book. Its 2/5 from me for this book!

    • Thanks for stopping by Ashley. You can’t really blame the critics. We all like different things and part of the joy of reading is that we all have differing opinions. Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’ seems to have been universally acclaimed and yet I didn’t get on with it at all.

      I agree that parts of the plot were slightly opaque and left some questions open but this doesn’t really bother me in a book. It was my first Sophie Hannah and I enjoyed it although I haven’t read any others.

      I’m sorry you were disappointed!

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