A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
It’s well-known that books generally prioritise one of three main elements: plot, character or writing. Plot is most certainly king in Sophie Hannah’s latest psychological thriller, The Point of Rescue. And this makes the book a little tricky to review – it would be all too easy to litter any analysis of this novel with spoilers, because, the point of the story is that nothing is as it seems. To summarise, Sally Thorning is watching the news with her husband when she hears that a man called Mark Bretherick has just lost his wife and daughter. Everything about the family is horribly familiar to Sally: the year before, desperate for a break from her young children and hectic job, she secretly booked herself into a remote hotel for a week. While she was there, she met and had an intense affair with Mark Bretherick. However, despite the fact that all the details are the same: his job, his wife Geraldine and daughter Lucy, the picture on the news is of a different man completely. So who was the man she met? And why are Lucy and Geraldine now dead?
It’s an intriguing premise, and like many who read thrillers regularly, I began guessing possible outcomes before I’d even got past the first chapter. But I didn’t stand a chance. Sophie throws so many twists and turns into the mix that, by the end, my head was spinning. In a good way.
Sophie’s writing is uncomplicated and lucid, and doesn’t get in the way of the story, which is important when your brain is busily engaged trying to figure out what’s going on. One of the most successful aspects of the novel is the structure: alternating chapters written from different characters’ POVs, using different tenses and mediums, drip-feeding clues and red herrings and keeping carefully considered control on what the reader does and doesn’t know. For example, one of the threads consists entirely of diary entries written by Geraldine before her death. These chapters are particularly chilling but add a psychological depth that would be harder to create using a more conventional method. There’s also light relief in the form of the colourful police investigating the deaths: we revisit Sergeant Charlie Zailer and the object of her affection, the strangely reluctant DC Simon Waterhouse, both featured in Sophie’s other crime novels. Their ‘on-off, will-they-won’t-they?’ story provides welcome moments of respite between the more harrowing scenes.
And, as for the resolution…Sophie Hannah’s mind must be something of a modern marvel: she plots with such incredible intricacy and foresight that when the ends all tied themselves together so neatly, I gasped with the cleverness of it all. I’d hesitate to describe this book as light reading: take it to the beach by all means, but it’s not one you’ll be able to enjoy under the influence of a cocktail. It’s a book that needs – and luckily deserves – to be read twice.
If I had any criticisms, it would be that, although Sophie’s police cast are especially well-drawn and entertaining, I felt the villain of the piece was a little murky in his authenticity and motives when finally exposed. Also, one of the red herrings – regarding a character’s identity (can’t say more without spoiling) felt a little too red-herringish. I could make a joke about it smelling a bit fishy… Suffice to say, to me, it felt a teeny bit contrived.
But these are minor quibbles, and don’t detract from Sophie’s great achievement: that despite occasionally leaving me completely baffled, the book never became tedious. I never wanted to throw it across the room, or give up on it. Instead, she left me desperate to know what would happen, and I kept turning those pages, even though reading it at times was a little exhausting.
The Point of Rescue is a huge, complicated, jigsaw-puzzle of a novel. But, as the final piece slotted into place, there was one thing I was sure of: the effort was worthwhile.
Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN-13: 978-0340933107. 464 pages. £12.99. Hardback. The paperback was released this week.
Many thanks for the Guest Review by writer, Charlotte Duckworth.