Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah
For anyone who likes the occasional bit of property porn, looking at property websites and TV programmes to see how the other half live, the premise of Lasting Damage, Hannah’s sixth psychochiller would be the perfect nightmare. Imagine starting up a virtual tour of a big house and seeing a dead body in a pool of blood in the lounge…
Well this is what happens to Connie Bowskill one night when she can’t sleep, but by the time she drags husband Kit out of bed to see it, the tour has started again and the body is gone. Was she just imagining it? Connie who is a rather neurotic and paranoid housewife can’t let it go, she contacts the police, hoping to speak to DC Simon Waterhouse, whom she’s encountered before. Only problem is that Simon is on his honeymoon – he finally married his on-off girlfriend Charlie Zailer, a former cop. But luckily Simon’s colleague takes her seriously enough to contact the police in the city where the house and ‘body’ were.
I’m not even going to attempt to try to explain any more of the plot than that. As you might guess, there’s an awful lot more to the story – Connie
knows suspects something – it involves her husband and houses in Cambridge – they nearly moved there once. It’s also enough to get Simon and Charlie back early from their honeymoon. The plot gets phenomenally twisted and very complex, and although the book was unputdownable, I needed breaks to even begin to assimilate what was happening – only for it to all be turned on its head again when I dived back in!
In Connie and Kit, Hannah has created marvelously complicated characters. Connie, the small town girl who works for the family firm, swept off her feet by the Cambridge graduate who promises her a different life, but finds she can’t cut the ties to her manipulative family. Kit has dreams, but appears to have settled for second best in a chocolate box cottage, seemingly content with their routine. Connie, who starts off as neurotic, gets more and more paranoid as things unfold. Kit you’re never sure of – sometimes you believe him, others you just can’t – no wonder Connie loses her trust in her soulmate.
As always in Hannah’s novels, the Spilling constabulary are in the background; taking us out of the claustrophobic nightmare that is Connie’s life, into the other one that is Simon and Charlie’s relationship! But you can’t let that get in the way of a good murder, and once Simon, an extraordinarily intuitive detective, is on the case, his new wife has to take a back seat. But it’s the Cambridge police that made me giggle half way through, when Connie quotes a phrase from a poem, only for the detective opposite to reply with the full verse from A E Housman. “Only in Cambridge would the cops quote poetry at you.”
I’ve read Sophie’s first three novels and loved all of them, especially Hurting Distance and The Point of Rescue (reviewed here). I jumped reading books 4 & 5 because I wanted to read this one so badly after she told me about it at an author event I attended last summer. In retrospect I wished I hadn’t opted to read out of order, as I shall now have to go back and find out how Simon and Charlie finally got together properly. Also a character returns from her first novel Little Face, which although not vital to the story, may perplex some readers.
Hannah’s writing is very involving – you feel you’re right inside the minds of her lead characters and can sense the creeping paranoia that envelopes them. You get desperate to find out what happens, truly concerned for them, yet glad it’s not happening to you of course – that little vicarious thrill that keeps you reading books of this ilk – she does it very well indeed.
If I had to describe this novel in one word, I’d call it ‘Twisted’, so twisted that it was sometimes almost too clever, but I never did know what was coming next – it was always a shock! I will read any novels that Sophie Hannah writes, but this one, whilst good, was not quite up to her best for me – 7.3/10.