The Other Half Lives – Sophie Hannah

I have been in a real mood for crime fiction in the last few weeks, be it cosy or thrilling it seems to be the only thing (apart from submissions for a certain award) that is appealing to my reading tastes. Normally I tend to want this sort of fiction in the autumn and winter, I wonder why it’s changed this summer?  One of my favourite crime authors is Sophie Hannah and her fourth novel ‘The Other Half Lives’ is her longest, so what could be better to get lost in for several hours when I needed another crime fix?

Sophie Hannah has become known for writing crime fillers that make the impossible become possible, ‘The Other Half Lives’ is yet another novel that instantly you think ‘how can that be?’ and are slowly and grippingly explained ‘just like this’. Ruth Bassey’s boyfriend has confessed to her that he has killed a woman. Ruth is naturally shocked and devastated until Aidan tells her the woman’s name, Mary Trelease, hearing the name Ruth feels instant relief because she has met Marty Trelease, be it under rather fraught circumstances, recently and knows that she is alive and well. Yet Aidan is adamant that he killed a Mary Trelease living at the same address and with the same name, and will not hear otherwise. So Ruth visits the police, and one police member in particular, Charlie Zailer who with her fiancé Simon (who have been the police in the previous books) start to try and work out just what is going on. They are as puzzled as the person reading the book at this point.

As the book continues Ruth, Mary and Aidan’s pasts all begin to look more and more shaky and the more we read in the more they intertwine due to their involvement in the art industry. They even start to involve the very police who are investigating the whole ‘non crime’. This small point was a slight issue for me as I thought ‘why after checking that a crime hadn’t happened would you carry on investigating’ but Charlie and Simon both clearly have gut feelings about this all and as the book goes on you can see they were right.

I do read reviews once I have finished a book and I was surprised how this has been received. I have seen comments of ‘overly long’, ‘dislikeable/one dimensional characters’ and ‘too complex’. Yes, the book is long but because its as complex as it is you can see why. You can’t interweave a plot like this in a short space of time (I bet someone will give me an example of a 100 page book that does now – ha) and one thing that Sophie Hannah does in making this book long is to drawn you in deeper and deeper so the pay off at the end is greater. I will admit the fact we kept seeing it from so many people’s viewpoints could be a little confusing and occasionally repetitive but I am not sure it would work so well without them.

As for the characters, yes they are one dimensional initially and remain so for a while in the book, but they need to be. We only get to learn additional snippets of their lives before we are introduced to them now and again throughout the first half of the book because we aren’t supposed to trust any of them, making the book more compelling (or irritating if you like your crime novels spelt out and predictable, in which case I wouldn’t recommend reading Hannah). Also as you realise there maybe more than one psycho in this tale, if we knew them inside out from the first two chapters of the book there would really be no story to tell, we would know it all from the off set, and where’s the fun in that?

A book that will: be ideal for people who like their crime novels unpredictable  and complex from the start which have you working really hard and even getting a little frustrated as you try and work it out, or who have already read the rest of the Sophie Hannah books leading up to this one. 7/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

Little Face by Sophie Hannah – the first and possibly the most chilling of Sophie Hannah’s series so far, can you imagine looking into your child’s cot after your first morning away from it and seeing the child there is not your child, yet everyone else says it is?
The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill – Susan Hill brings not only the victims and people involved vividly to life, she also pulls in the life of her detective in each case Simon Serrailler, which Hannah does with Charlie and Simon in this series.
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson – If you like complex plots and coincidences then you HAVE to read the Kate Atkinson books featuring Jackson Brodie, this one for me is the best so far (I haven’t quite finished the new one though) but if you haven’t read them do start with ‘Case Histories’.

I am definitely looking forward to the fifth in Sophie Hannah’s series ‘A Room Swept White’ which I am yet to get my mitts on, and the sixth is out next year.  They are becoming firm favourites. You can find out more about her and the series tomorrow when she pops by for a coffee and a natter. Who out there has tried the Sophie Hannah series? Who has been meaning to? Which is your favourite crime series be it current or old?


Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

20 responses to “The Other Half Lives – Sophie Hannah

  1. Maybe it’s the weather Simon – seems to be Autumn now 😦

  2. I bought two of her books for my Kindle (Little Face and Hurting Distance) based on Jackie’s recommendation. I haven’t gotten to them yet, but am thinking maybe I will read them for Carl’s RIP which should be coming up soon. I love crime novels that yank me around unexpectedly.

  3. I dont read Crime novels very often but I have to admit I was quite tempted by this one. It practically is Autumn now anyways.

  4. Dot

    I have The Point of Rescue to read next and then this one, they are such a good series of books.

  5. bookgazing

    I’ll be looking forward to seeing Sophie Hannah pop up here. I read Little Face when it first came out and found it disturbing (in that intriguing way readers oh so love) and I think we have the new one around here somewhere.

  6. What a fascinating set-up for a crime thriller! I am a fan of police procedurals and this looks to have some of that, plus some psychological aspects. I prefer to start at the beginning of a series, so I’ll follow up on your recommendation for Little Face, which sounds chilling.

    • Little Face is indeed chilling and brilliantly done. I didnt guess what had happened until almost the very end… mind you I don’t too often. Am one of those wild guess readers, or I over think it and make it so far fetched I would never get it right.

  7. novelinsights

    I enjoyed this and really want to read A Room Swept White. Hannah is always a winner for me as you know!

  8. I almost bought book number one over the weekend. I should go back and get it. I’ve been meaning to read something by Sophie Hannah for quite some time; I love mysteries!

  9. I read quite a few crime novels so thanks for this one. Will check it out.

    As for crime series, I really like Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels set in Sicily and Paco Ignacio Taibo’s Hector Shayne Belascoaran series set in Mexico.

  10. Pingback: Savidge Reads Grills… Sophie Hannah « Savidge Reads

  11. Anion

    I know this is a very old review now, but I just started re-reading this book for the fourth (or fifth?) time and thought I’d check out a few reviews of it–largely because I realized that yet again, while I have a vague memory of the ending/solution, and I certainly remember the harrowing details of Ruth’s past, I’ve forgotten quite a few details and how the whole thing comes together. It occurred to me what a great delight that is, and how rare it is: a book that gives itself to you anew, and surprises you, even while still being something like revisiting an old familiar friend.

    Like you, I’ve been rather shocked to see how many reviewers found the book convoluted or overly complex. I was thinking what great skill Hannah has, to make the book so involving and event-filled that even someone like me–who usually remembers plots and details very well, and holds those memories for years–can still be surprised on re-reading. The writing itself can tend to be a little odd and clunky, and some of the characters can be a little too sad-sack at times, but I’m still engrossed in this one from the very first page every time I pick it up.

    So, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone! Off to check out some of your other reviews.

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