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by Sophie Hannah
William Morrow, February 2019
416 pages
ISBN: 0062388355

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At the insistence of her mother, a teenager is forced to give up her baby daughter for adoption when the boyfriend takes off. That baby grows up to be Kim Tribbeck, a fairly popular stand-up comedian on the English circuit. It's not so much the sort of childhood she had that rankles with Kim: it's the fact that when that same teenager became pregnant again the following year by another disappearing boyfriend, the teenager's mother took one look at the baby boy and fell in love with him. So, he wasn't adopted. He was kept and cherished.

Now, years later, the mother of these two illegitimate babies is long dead and the two grown young people are together in a hospital at the bedside of that domineering grandmother who is dying with cancer soon, but who knows how long she will last?

Kim finds she can't sit with the woman she resents so much and leaves that to her half-brother Drew; thus, we mostly get to know her as she sits in a hallway nearby going over and over all that's gone wrong with her life. Primarily it is a complete inability to trust others that has resulted in her isolation. Actually, she has no real friends at all.

Enter the thriller part. A pair of young women who happen to be best friends are murdered, but not together they die some time apart. Still, the murders are similar and the police immediately link them. Then another pair of best friends are also murdered like the first two same way but some time apart but this is a young man and woman. In the possessions of each of the four victims there is a small hand-made white book, totally blank except for a snippet of poetry on one page. The snippets pair up the same way the couples do.

All sorts of police forces from across England are now called upon to help out the Culver Valley squad in their investigations. For the most part the officers of the law are flawed but decent enough sorts. The publicity is endless. The suspect is called "Billy Dead Mates" until his/her actual name can be discovered. Kim gets caught up in the news along with everyone else and then she remembers that before the first two murders occurred a stranger came up to her quickly after one of her gigs and gave her a small white home-made book with a snip of poetry in it. She remembers being confused and throwing it away but she remembers the line. It was about death. Worse, Kim remembers seeing just such a little book pinned to the bulletin board in the ward in which her grandmother finally died. Did "Billy Dead Mates" think that she and her grandmother were best friends? Was he/she after Kim?

And we're off to the races! There are deliciously weird and skewed side characters well, our protagonist is that way too. The plot is convoluted and intricate but, in the end, not sufficiently convincing to carry me through. My other complaint is that I could not find a single character that I could care about so it was hard for me to suspend belief and enter into the story.

On the other hand, I must honestly say that Sophie Hannah is a really good writer and one who deserves a strong following for her depressive but fascinating stories.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, March 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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