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.