Today’s review is something of a departure for me, as it was a book gifted to me. But it is nice to have the odd wild card read, to try something you wouldn’t normally try.
‘Clarry is 26, attractive, funny – and on the road to nowhere. Living a makeshift existence as a waitress, she knows life should be led with some sort of plan, but unfortunately planning is something she needs to get around to. Enter her best friend Laura with a seemingly simple request: check out Simon, estate agent and new boyfriend, to make sure he really is interested in Laura and not the solicitor help she can provide. Clarry is no detective, unless you count tracking down where her next tip is coming from. Still, what harm could a little amateur sleuthing do?’
In a nutshell I think this was a mixed bag of a read, though it was not without its interest and it did provide me with the opportunity to reflect upon narrative voice and plotting. Starting with the first of these I found the narrative voice hard to get into. At times it felt a little forced in its archness. Whilst reading the story I did wonder whether I was struggling to click with the narrator due to it being a young person’s voice using a young person’s lexicon. I say young person, but the narrator is only three years younger than me, yet the gap felt a lot bigger! It also probably seemed more alien to me as I tend to read mostly older crime fiction. A few chapters in though and I did find myself getting into it a bit, which brings us on to plotting…
This is a book of two halves. The first half is hinted at in the synopsis provided and Clarry’s access into this case occurs quickly, yet fallibly natural. Her supporting cast of friends who aid her sleuthing also made this more plausible in a comic crime fashion. It was interesting to read about a financial crime rather than a murder and it seemed to suit the capabilities of our sleuth Clarry.
However, this investigation is pretty much done and dusted by page 150 and this is a 347 paged book. So what is going to happen next? Well during her investigations in the first half of the book Clarry happens across some other criminal activity, which rapidly spirals into illegal landlords, human trafficking and murder. So just a little bit of a jump up…
The transition between the two halves reveals some narrative floundering and it made me wonder if the writer should have stuck with the financial crime and just made it more complex, as Clarry’s sleuthing is more pronounced in this part of the novel. There were many points in the middle of the book where the story felt like it had finished, yet obviously hadn’t as there was more to go. Suffice to say Clarry gets completely out of her depth in the second half and if there was not a deus ex machina or two then there would not be a sequel to the book.
The plot of the second half does not particularly fit the cover nor the title, which belie a much lighter read and it is only in much smaller print on the back that the ‘dark undertones and gritty themes’ are mentioned. These themes were not quite to my taste, so this might be less of an issue to other readers. However, I would suggest that this is a novel which is unsure of what it wants to be. The mesh of light and dark in this book is uneven and usually entails Clarry plunging into the depths of darkness for a chapter, only then for some plot events to pull her straight back out in the next section. For me it felt like the mystery was trying to cover too many bases and so was strongest in the first half. This being a first book there is also a tendency for too much description. I appreciate that authors use descriptions and scene setting passages to depict the emotional world of their characters, but I think it is a technique to be used sparingly and in this instance was overdone.
I readily admit I am not the sort of reader this book is aimed at, yet during the first third I really thought it had a chance of winning me over and it is a pity that it didn’t quite manage it.