There’s a classic French novel called Le Grand Meaulnes, which is basically in two parts. The first is about a runaway schoolboy who stumbles into a marvelous, fairy tale experience in an isolated, ancient mansion in the countryside. The second half is the prosaic, logical explanation of this seemingly magic occurrence and the resulting quotidian grind of real life. In a way it’s satisfying to know what really happened, but in another way you want to rip the book in two and throw the ending out of the window. Or in the words of the marvelously named Sacheverell Sitwell, “In the end, it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.”
Sophie Hannah’s books are police procedurals, and technically a series, but she seems always more interested in plot than in the coppers making the deductions. That’s not a bad thing, but there’s no Inspector Dalgleish or Rebus or Banks to love. Instead, the reader gets the messier – and no doubt far more realistic – interchange of police at all different levels and abilities. In the case in this novel, the group have a very puzzling crime to solve.
Hannah diffuses her narrative with different narrators, newspaper columns, emails, and a host of other devices that keep the reader guessing along with the detectives. There’s the straight up procedural story where the police are trying to solve a string of four murders that look to be paired murders of best friends, though carried out at different times and in different locations, and then there’s the story of the various characters in the novel.