My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sophie Hannah’s thriller Kind of Cruel: A Zailer and Waterhouse Mystery (Putnam 2013) never lets up. From the opening scene when Amber Hewerdine–an insomniac going to a hypnotist as a final gambit to end her sleeplessness–is arrested in connection with a murder, to the final surprise ending, the story wraps mystery into plotline into psycho-drama. We readers scrabble frantically to figure out the origin of the words ‘kind of cruel’ and whether they are the fulcrum to who killed two seemingly unconnected women. In the usual British way, the characters are difficult and acerbic, hard to like thanks to their lack of social skills, but intriguing because of their intellect. For example, Amber Hewerdine is cranky, opinionated, and judge-jury to everyone she meets, but unlike Ellie Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway, is literarily saved because she is just as hard on herself.
The story’s voice is as confusing as the plotline. We sometimes see the world through Amber Hewerdine’s eyes, in first person present. Other times, we jump into another character’s head (Amber’s sister-in-law or one of the detectives or another pivotal individual including the narrator) and switch to third person present or past. Then, there are times we are in an unnamed point of view, this always identified by italics–actually two fonts of italics (this we finally figure out half way through is the hypnotherapist whose character ties all the disparate story threads together). This final viewpoint provides the psycho-analysis of motives, tie-ins, backstory where needed, and an insider perspective on a complicated and tightly-woven plot.
But that’s a lot of switches and caused me no small bit of confusion. I never could quite relax into the story.
One piece that will appeal to many readers is the comparison of homemaking styles between Amber Hewerdine and her sister-in-law Jo Utterly. The former is haphazard but loving, while the latter is Martha Stewart. Who c an not hope that Jo will get her comeuppance in the end?
One other noteworthy piece: This is supposed to be from Sophie Hannah’s detective series starring Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse. When I started the book, I was excited in hopes I’d find another character-driven thriller/mystery series I could munch my way through. Well, yes, they are in this story, but events do not revolve around them as you would expect from series characters, nor do we spend a lot of time with them. The one scene where we get to know them as a married couple–and discover some of their relationship oddities–I found myself wondering how they could survive emotionally for the next book (if there is a next).
Over all, good read if a bit confusing.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.