Review: Tanya Byrne – Heart Shaped Bruise

I’ve noticed recently the growing popularity of crime books aimed at young adults but read by a wide variety of ages. I don’t set out to read YA fiction, mainly as I prefer books written for an adult audience but very occasionally I read a book that clearly crosses the genre and explores issues that have a universal appeal.

Heart Shaped Bruise by debut author Tanya Byrne  is written in the form of a notebook that is found on top of a wardrobe when Archway Young Offenders Institution is closed. It tells the story of Emily Knoll, who is infamous inside the institution and beyond its walls for the heinous crime she committed. Much of the book records the interactions that take place in sessions with Doctor Gilyard, her psychiatrist. We learn that Emily assumed a false identity to befriend a girl whose actions caused Emily’s father to end up in prison and that she is now awaiting trial. The book moves at a swift pace towards the book’s climax and leaves the reader with some interesting questions.

Heart Shaped Bruise was an enjoyable read full of compelling characters. The narrative of Emily, and her alter ego Rose, dominates the book and although we perhaps don’t get that much insight into why she is as she is, we are drawn into her desire for vengeance against Juliet. The relationship between Juliet and her boyfriend Sid is perhaps where we see why the book has been targeted to a young adult audience. Exams, parties, pressures of nurturing friendships and relationships are explored alongside the jealousies that can build up in a stressful environment. The narrative moves well between the past and present, highlighting Emily’s freedoms before her crime and the restrictions of her present incarceration.

The ending was satisfactorily oblique and my only gripe would be with a couple of blurbs comments which suggested a ‘twist’ in the ending which, to my mind at least, wasn’t there. Judging by the Q & A section with the author at the end of the book it seems that Byrne’s next novel is firmly aimed at a young adult audience so it may well be the only book that I read by this writer. But it was an enjoyable, easy read on a subject that will appeal to all ages.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Elizabeth Haynes – Into the Darkest Corner

There has been plenty of news coverage in recent years of that most modern of phenomena – stalking. It is a crime that is often (but not always) perpetrated by men against women and occasionally it results in violence and death. It’s not a theme that I’ve particularly noticed in my crime fiction reading. I tend to avoid psychological thrillers and I also find the whole idea of obsession to be very upsetting. However I recently read Elizabeth Haynes’s excellent Into the Darkest Corner which I found to be a thoughtful and gripping thriller.

The book opens with the notes of a court case taking place in May 2005 and the interrogation of a Lee Brightman by the prosecuting counsel. Lee has clearly been stalking a woman called Catherine Bailey, and the questioning implies that Lee is either a policeman or a man in a position of authority. The book then alternates between the events of 2003/4 when Catherine meets and enters a relationship with Lee, and the present day where Cathy is attempting to rebuild her life. She clearly fears for her safety and has developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which causes her to check and re-check her flat every morning and evening. She meets a tenant in the flat upstairs, Stuart, who urges her to see a doctor friend of his and relationship between Stuart and Cathy slowly develops. However, the past and present are about to meet…

The  most successful aspect of this book was how some of the clichés of the psychological thriller genre were slightly skewed. Lee is revealed to be a policeman and therefore we as readers, as well as Catherine/Cathy, are forced to reconsider where places of safety can be found. The parallel narratives work well because although Cathy clearly considers herself to be under threat, she is also attempting a new relationship which is developed alongside the unfolding of the older abusive one. Again, as a reader we scrutinise the gentle Stuart more because of the way Lee duped Cathy.

Haynes is also very good at showing how Catherine changed from an outgoing, sexually active young woman to someone desperate to avoid human contact. Some parts are difficult to read. I found Lee repulsive from the very beginning and although I could see how he would be attractive to a girl like Catherine, I was mentally imploring her to stay well away from him. There is also an interesting take on female friendship which  I found to be entirely realistic and added an extra dimension to the book.

The fractured nature of the writing, moving between different periods perfectly suited this style of book and I’m looking forward to reading more of this author.

I bought my copy of this book. Other reviews can be found at Petrona, Eurocrime and It’s A Crime.