I first found out about Sophie Hannah thanks to Novel Insights who bought her book of short stories The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets which we both read separately and couldn’t stop talking to each other about. We then found out that not only was Sophie a poet but she also wrote crime fiction. Now I can’t speak for Novel Insights (bar I know that she secretly loves Tess Gerritsen novels like I do) but I do like a good crime novel. I like the cosy Marple crimes, the detective series crimes and also the literary crimes by the likes of my favourite author Kate Atkinson (well she is one of my favourite authors). Sophie Hannah falls in to a mixture of all of these, well maybe not the cosy crime so much with subjects like babies being swapped in Little Face, the excellent first novel in the series though they can be read as stand alone novels.
The subject of Hurting Distance is rape, not an easy subject for any author. But then isn’t the whole point of fiction to deal with the good and the bad? At the start of the novel we are shown an email, written by N.J a victim of rape, on the Speak Out and Survive website telling not of her story of rape but of her dislike for people who have been raped speaking out and attention seeking and how she is jealous of the other people on the site with their ‘demanding boyfriends’. Instantly I felt like this could be awkward territory a rape victim who both disliked and was jealous of other rape victims, could Hannah deal with this unusual look at rape in a delicate way and yet make a hard hitting crime story out of it? The answer was of course yes.
N.J it turns out, in the next chapter so I am not spoiling anything, is Naomi Jenkins a sundial maker. From the outside she is a professional successful young business woman deep down she harbours a terrible secret from her past. Every Thursday night like clockwork Naomi meets her married lover Robert Haworth at the Traveltel they check into the same room, number eleven and spend the same amount of hours together and have done so for over a year. One day Robert doesn’t turn up, in fact it appears he has vanished. Naomi reports it to the police but they think she has simply dumped him and ignore her. After going to his house and seeing something so shocking it both scares her and blanks her memory Naomi is sure something dreadful has happened and realises if she wants the police to find him she will have to convince them that he is a dangerous criminal.
I found Naomi an incredibly complex character. She goes through several different character traits in the book from powerful professional, victim, obsessive lover, jealous lover, calculating liar to vengeful woman. Hannah has created a very unlikely sort of anti-hero, how can I put that better? Though I didn’t really like Naomi or her ethics I couldn’t stop reading her and I also could see why she did what she did even though really it wasn’t right. Puzzled? Read the book and you won’t be.
Amongst the incredibly tight and twist laden story Hannah also continues the story of Detectives Charlie and Simon as Charlie is still fawning over Simon even after he rejected her advances at a party and after the last infatuation he had with the victim of Little Face in the previous novel. So amongst the already complex plotting is another one that adds its own tensions and complexities and you get to know them and their colleagues further.
I had wondered if Hannah would be able to better Little Face as it was just so good. With Hurting Distance she has bettered it (though that doesn’t take anything away from its predecessor) and come up with an incredibly complex plot and some incredibly complex characters. There is suspense and a lot of twists without it being over complicated and though I cottoned on to one of links before it was announced I would never have guessed the four or more twists that then followed on. Superb! 5/5