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I have a feeling I may have read one or two other books by Joy Fielding previously, which is why I wanted to give this a go as I thought it would be my 'kinda thing'. I'm glad I did; it may not have had the best ending, but the witty writing and interesting psychological undertones made it intriguing to read.
On the cover is the tagline 'Locked in a web of deceit, there's only one way out' to draw us in. Charley's Web (nice play on words there) falls within the crime thriller genre and is US-based. We're introduced to Charley Webb, a controversial columnist for the Palm Beach Post. A single mother of two children and not keen on the notion of bringing a man in to her life, Charley seems quite cold in a way; she has some sharp edges and no true friends, no one in the office that's too friendly with her, no neighbours wanting to come by for a cup of tea. We learn about her past and her family, which includes a mother who abandoned her only to return two years ago, a father who doesn't talk to her since she allowed her mother back in to her life, two successful sisters who don't seem to know her, and a brother whose life is going off the tracks. Her writing is popular but not necessarily for the right reasons, but she wants a new challenge, she wants to prove herself and find some fame and success; after all, if her sisters can do it, why can't she?
After yet another evocative piece in her Charley's Web column, she receives some email threats. We see examples of the types of emails she receives, from praising her honesty and gutsy approach to more taboo subjects, to hate mail that slates her lack of talent and shallowness. We also see some of her responses, but when she receives a threat to her children, she goes straight to her boss and the police. It's probably just a nut job, but it shakes her up.
Her spirits are lifted somewhat when she receives a letter from a woman she once wrote a column about, Jill Rohmer. Rohmer is on death row having been convicted of the brutal murders of 3 children she once babysat for. Apparently Rohmer has a story to tell, and she wants Charley to do it. Although not so keen on the idea at first, it seems Jill believes the world doesn't really know the truth, and through her lawyer Alex, Charley sets up a meeting at the prison. From here, the story sees the relationships between the killer, the lawyer seemingly protecting the killer, and the sceptical writer, play out. We get a glimpse in to the psyche of Jill, who looks young and innocent, and questions are formed as to what really happened to those children, what's really going on in Jill's head, and whether Charley has the stomach to actually pen the killer's biography. Meanwhile, side stories play out involving Charley's personal life, including relationships and family dramas, and bit by bit the lines start to cross over as the tension mounts and speed picks up.
In terms of the premise, I quite enjoyed the notion of a more psychological look at a suspected killer from the more sceptical columnist's view. It was interesting to see how Charley's fears and expectations are met or are gradually changed throughout the book as she herself seems to change.
The book is broken down in to fairly manageable chapters and within these were dotted about either the article Charley had just written, a letter from Jill, or email correspondence to and from her readers. These were parts that often made me chuckle because Fielding has a wittiness about her writing, making Charley quite quick with biting comments and comical quips. It kept the book feeling fresh, down to earth and well balanced between these instances of lightness, and the darker world of child killers.
As I've just mentioned, Fielding does have a fluid and engaging style of writing that brings to life the characters and scenes really well. I could imagine what was going on, build up an idea in my head of what people looked like, get a feel for what they may be thinking and feeling and what makes them tick.
The background stories to characters such as Charley and Jill gave depth to them, and added that more psychological undertone that I enjoyed. It also helped generate a lot of questions as I wondered whether I'd got someone wrong, if maybe that person wasn't quite what I thought they were. And that's the whole 'who dunnit' part; there's a good amount of crime thrills in the sense that you're hanging on to see what happens, and to see if you're assumptions are right.
What I wasn't so keen on, however, was the ending. This seemed rather lack-lustre and a bit of a let-down as the pace and atmosphere was built up for a grande finale. Or at least a bit of an explanation. It was almost like it was a rush to get the mystery solved and tied up, and it seemed a shame because it's not satisfying thinking it wasn't properly finished. I wanted to know why and get a better understanding, but the ending unfortunately seemed to lack that depth.
On the back are further comments and praise, including : 'Fielding masterfully manipulates our expectations' - Washington Post, and 'Fielding knows how to create a labyrinth of tension, never providing an exit until the very last page' - Toronto Globe. I'd agree with these as I did find the book engaging, easy to read, interesting and provocative. But, like I said, the ending let it down for me a little, hence I'm knocking a star off.
Overall, I would recommend this for crime thriller fans and those who like some wittier writing styles. It was an enjoyable read that kept me guessing and turning the pages despite the somewhat disappointing ending.
37 chapters over 437 pages (paperback)
[Also reviewed by me, gothic_moon, on Ciao]
I have been reading books by the author Joy Fielding for as long as I can remember. Her books can best be described as psychological thrillers and in most cases I have been on the edge of my seat from the moments I have picked the books up. 'Charley's Web' had a slightly different feel to it though and although I enjoyed the book very much I did not really experience the usual tension until towards the very end.
The book is about a character called Charley Webb who is a somewhat provocative journalist for a Florida newspaper. She writes a weekly column that often provokes and shocks her readers which consequently leads to a lot of interesting emails and letters. Most are complaints but alongside all her regular post, she receives a letter from Jill Rohmer, a convicted child killer awaiting execution on Death Row. She wants Charley to write a book telling the story of what happened, and even though Charley is repulsed by the crimes, she agrees to do so and starts meeting Jill on a regular basis in order to piece the story together. The meetings are often hostile and sinister and leave Charley feeling quite unsettled particularly when Jill starts alluding to an accomplice called Jack who is still at large. Obviously, as you are reading, you can't help wondering who Jack might be and whether we might have already met him!
Alongside this Jill has a very troubled family of her own mainly due to the fact that her mother left her and her two sisters and one brother when she was only eight. Her mother reappeared in their lives a few years ago but they have all dealt in this in their own way with Charley being the only one who has anything to do with her mother. She really wants to get the family back together but it does not prove to be easy. Alongside this she has to keep rescuing her brother from dodgy situations, she is looking after a shady nightclub owner's dog and there is also a rather handsome lawyer on the scene. To cap it all though, she keeps receiving threatening emails concerning her two small children and she really does not know who she can trust.
It sounds a little confusing but all of these stories merge very well and culminate in an exciting and suspenseful finale. I really felt that most of the suspense came in the last fifty pages or so which made it quite different from Fielding's usual novels that start building the suspense from the very first pages. I still found it a very enjoyable book though although at times I had to remind myself that it was a Joy Fielding novel!
There was some excellent characterisation in the book not least of all Charley herself. She was an intriguing character and changed greatly over the course of the book and I very much warmed to her as she did so. At first she was not at all likeable coming over as very opinionated and having upset virtually everyone that she had come into contact with. She changes quite subtly at first but you are suddenly aware that she has become a softer, rounder character and you do actually like and care about her after all! I found myself very caught up in the story about Charley's family and sympathised with Charley's brother, Bram. He was only two when their mother left and has felt hurt and abandoned all his life resulting in his getting into trouble and abusing alcohol and drugs. His reaction when he eventually comes face to face with his mother is quite moving and you do really feel for his pain.
Overall this is a well written book which kept my interest from start to finish. I also desperately wanted to find out the identity of Jack and this kept me guessing all the way through. There are always surprises with Joy Fielding and this book was no exception. There is suspense that builds nicely but there is also a whole look more making this, in my opinion, one of Joy Fielding's best books (and they are all very good!). I really recommend it along with all the others that she has written too.
The paperback has a RRP of £6.99 but it is currently available on Amazon for only £5.49.