A Room Swept White – Sophie Hannah

I have to say that I think this year above any other, well that I can think of, is the year where my taste buds for crime novels has been, erm, criminal. I can’t get enough! I have experimented with some new authors, and had some great successes, but the last few months (maybe because I was feeling a bit ropey) have seen me turn to my favourite series of crime novels and devour the next instalment. The first of these was ‘A Room Swept White’ which is the fifth in what, unofficially or officially I am not sure, have become the ‘Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer’ novels.

I did feel a slight trepidation before I started reading ‘A Room Swept White’. I have liked every book in Sophie Hannah’s ‘psychological suspense novels’ though the last one didn’t quite set me alight as I wanted. I had also done that very foolish thing of going and looking up some of the reviews by people, on a certain website, who had already read it which weren’t particularly favourable. I however thought this book, though I will admit not my favourite of the lot, was a really good thriller that had me guessing until the very end. I was left wondering if people had read a different book which had this cover on the front.

Fliss Benson is shocked when she learns that her boss has decided to give her his job when he decides to leave. What shocks her more is the fact that he has left her to carry on making the film he has been passionate for years. It’s the story of Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines, three women who were wrongly accused of killing their own children all with the same child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy who was accusing them but is now herself facing an investigation for apparent misconduct. Not only is this a high profile film with a hard subject matter, its one that Fliss has been trying to avoid due to a secret lying in her very own past. This all gets much more complicated when someone kills Helen Yardley leaving a card with sixteen numbers on it, the very same numbers and in the same formation that someone has just sent to Fliss too.

I thought the premise of ‘A Room Swept White’ was incredibly strong, the whole sixteen numbers on a card had me very intrigued as did the idea of this evil Dr Judith Duffy. I was also looking forward to seeing what was doing on with the dynamics of the relationship between Zailer and Waterhouse. Weird then that I would say that these three things were not what kept me reading the book. In fact the sixteen digits only got the occasional mention and, without giving too much away, didn’t have that much relevance (for me at least) when everything was uncovered, nor really did Dr Judith Duffy. Zailer and Waterhouse were also in the book a lot less than they normally are, which I think makes this the most standalone in the series after ‘Little Face’ which is where it all starts. You would think then after all that I would be about to give the book a stinking review, no, not at all. Other things kept me reading instead.

One of the things that kept me reading was the main subject matter of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to this. I found it, whilst horrifying, quite fascinating to read. Not the deaths themselves, more how people are so quick to point the finger at the mothers, not the fathers so much it seemed, after a baby has died. There is the witch hunt element of it all too. I also liked the way Sophie Hannah weaved in different mediums of writing. There was the first person narrative of Fliss, the third person narrative of the police investigation, newspaper articles, interviews, and even snippets from a biography of one of the mothers (this made me think of the recent McCann book) it was a lot of information to take in but seemed to drive the story forward. Oh and there was the mystery element too which kept you reading on, especially after the very unexpected second murder which I will say no more about.

‘A Room Swept White’ could have been a let down for me if I was only reading the book because I had been hooked in by the blurb. However, as I was reading this as a fan of Sophie Hannah’s previous novels and because I like a good crime – it worked for me overall because even though it didn’t deliver where I was expecting, it delivered in lots of other ways. Oh, apart from the last chapter which left you wondering (which I liked) and then tied up a few (rather saccharine) loose ends that I could have done without, that’s a small quibble though. I would agree with some other reviews that it’s not quite the crime that you’ll be expecting by what you are sold but that’s the marketing departments fault not the authors. What Sophie Hannah again delivers is a smart modern psychological (and the baddie is bonkers in this one) crime that touches on a very current subject, I enjoyed it and its still one of my favourite series going. 7.5/10

This book was kindly sent to me at the request of the author.

Who else has been reading this series? Which has been your favourite so far? Has anyone read the latest one ‘Lasting Damage’ and, without giving anything away, what did you think? It was strange looking back at my previous reviews of some of this series… what happened to ‘Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners’ do you think I should bring that back again?


Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

10 responses to “A Room Swept White – Sophie Hannah

  1. novelinsights

    Well put it this way, I gave Lasting Damage a 4.5/5 and A Room Swept White a 3.5/5. Loved Lasting Damage almost as much as little face, but agree with you the rather authoritive-sounding discussion of SIDS was fascinating in RSW.

    • I am very excited about Lasting Damage as if its as good as Little Face then it must be a corker. I thought this one was really readable, I admit after the last one I was worried but i got through it in the journey from Cambridge to Manchester, admittedly that was a blinking ridiculous journey.

  2. Louise

    I love Sophie Hannah, although I enjoyed A Room Swept White, it was my least favourite, I think the earlier books are slightly better. Lasting Damage would be my second favourite.

  3. Sophie

    Hi SImon — what a timley post this was for me. I have never read any Sophie Hannah but I know you’re a big fan and I’m keen to give her a go. Just last night I was browsing in the Kindle Store and trying to decide which of her books to download. They all sound so interesting. Which would you recommend I go for first?

    • Well if in the almost two months it has taken me to respond, so sorry, you havent bought one yet Sophie then I would say start at the begining with Little Face. Apparently some of those characters come back in the latest one ‘Lasting Damage’.

  4. gaskella

    I’ve now read 1, 2, 3 & 6. Lasting Damage, which I read last month, was the least successful for me by dint of being too clever for its own good despite a fabulous premise. My review is here if you want to have a look. Her second novel is my favourite so far – very nasty!

    • I love the first three in particular, so far, they have a special place in my heart being the first. I am looking forward to Lasting Damage, will have to see what you mean by being to clever for its own good… it has me intrigued.

  5. I agree, Sophie Hannah’s books are quite enjoyable but this book may be a little less exciting than her other books. Still, I enjoyed this book, like most of her works.

    • I enjoyed this more than The Other Half Lives, which was still a much better novel than some I have come across, so I am excited to hear that Lasting Damage is wonderful. Which makes it sound like some inbetween havent been… and they have.

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