Before reading Bloody Women, I hadn't heard of the author Helen Fitzgerald and by the title and blurb, I expected a standard crime-thriller novel. But early on, I realised this wasn't the case. The novel was a kind of black comedy and written with wit and humour, despite the themes of murder and violence.
We are thrown straight into the action, with Catriona 'Cat' Marsden identifying the severed penis of her ex-boyfriend. This is shocking, but the humour comes through and Cat is very likeable. The reader wants to follow her story and discover more about what has happened.
It turns out that not just one, but THREE of Cat's ex-boyfriends are found dead. Unsurprisingly, Cat is a prime suspect and is accused of murder, being placed in Cambusvale Prison in Scotland. Meanwhile, author Janet Edgely has written a biography of Cat, delivering the copy of the manuscript to her prison cell. But as she reads 'Cat Marsden - Portrait of a Serial Monogamist' she realises Janet has twisted her words - in a way common to many journalists looking for a sensational headline - and realises she might find her own clues in the writing as to what really happened.
It is hard to review this book without giving away too much, as every few pages, there seems to be some revelation or clue and the reader's own theories about the murderer will change throughout. I enjoyed this aspect of the novel, getting involved and playing along, trying to decide who was guilty and what their motives could have been.
The characters are well-developed throughout. As well as Cat herself, we meet her mother Irene, her friend Anna, her current fiancé Joe and his family in Italy. We also learn more about her previous relationships with the three men who were killed.
The book is written in an intelligent way, but with a chatty style that is very readable. I found the novel compelling and read the whole thing (249 pages) in a couple of days. It is split into three parts, so we get to see the events through the eyes of several characters, though mainly from Catriona's viewpoint. It is also exciting, especially the last third, which does follow more of the usual thriller style, as the reader turns the pages quicker and quicker, to find out what is going to happen.
All the characters are believable, and I love the way the author describes people in such a way that a few idiosyncratic details say so much about the person. The little bits of information about their sex lives is revealing too - not in a titillating way, but in a way that says a lot about their character and their faults. As a woman, I felt I could sympathise with Cat and her experiences too, as we have all met men who let us down in some way and fail to deliver their promises.
So this novel has it all - thriller, drama, whodunit, comedy, great characters and good humour. There is sex and violence, but nothing gratuitous. This may well be more of a woman's novel than a man's (How many men would like to read about a killer who severs penises?!), but for any age from sixteen or so upwards. I loved it and will definitely be looking out for more of Helen Fitzgerald's work.