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Safer than Houses - Frances Fyfield

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      27.07.2006 11:17
      Very helpful



      One of Fyfield's worst books

      I either love or hate Frances Fyfield’s work. I don’t quite understand how she can write like two different people, but she does. She is the author of two series, one featuring lawyer Helen West, and another featuring lawyer/serial mistress Sarah Fortune, as well as a collection of non-series books. On the whole, the Helen West series is infinitely superior to the others, although one or two of the Sarah Fortune novels are not bad. This is one of the latter; unfortunately, this is one of the worse ones – I found it tedious to read to the extent that I would have given up if I hadn’t been stuck on public transport in traffic with nothing else to do.

      The plot
      Sarah Fortune has been left a flat by a man, Charles Tysall, who tried to kill her when she turned him down. The flat, situated in London’s Fitzrovia, would have been a blessing had it not been for the fact that Tysall’s estranged son, Julian, thinks the flat should be his and threatens Sarah with all manner of intimidation. Julian approaches one of Sarah’s lovers, Alan, a career criminal, to carry out his threats.

      At the same time, Sarah meets Henry Brett, a timid man who is terrified of his neighbour, an elderly lady, who makes his life unbearable. They decide to swap flats for a while to see if this will improve matters. For a time it does, but will Julian work out to where Sarah has moved? Or will Henry suffer in her stead?

      The characters
      I have enjoyed Sarah Fortune as a character in the past, but now it is time she is put to bed – she has certainly passed her sell-by date. She was a lawyer, which is how she became involved in crimes in the past, but now she has her flat, she has given up her career to become a serial mistress and possibly even a prostitute – it is never quite explained in the book. Sarah is a generous woman, who likes to share her happiness with other people – she tends to adopt waifs and strays, like Alan, who has burn scars on his face and Henry, who is scared of life. She is known for her quirky personality, but I found her totally unbelievable in this book and I couldn’t warm to her either. I just didn’t really care whether she lived or died.

      Alan and Henry, Sarah’s waifs and strays, are also very unrealistic characters. There was no explanation for why Henry is so timid or why he was so afraid of his neighbour – it would have helped if there had been a reason for his behaviour, without it, it just seemed odd. Alan was an odd mixture of criminal and all-time good guy - if he had been better portrayed, he might have been more realistic.

      Julian, the benefactor’s jealous son, was about as scary as Bagpuss. His father, Charles, who featured in earlier books, was much better portrayed; Julian was just a shadow of his father. The Tysall versus Fortune story has been carrying on for too long and is becoming tedious; I do hope Fyfield doesn’t trot him out for another book in the future.

      I was deeply disappointed by this book, but not entirely surprised – past experience has shown that Fyfield’s books are either brilliant or awful. I will certainly not be going out of my way to read any other books in the Sarah Fortune series.

      As well as the weak characters, the plot was also feeble. Frances Fyfield has proved that she is more than capable of writing books that are both gripping and scary, but this almost didn’t register on my radar of scariness – it was just tedious and annoying.

      I do like the way Fyfield writes though. She is a criminal lawyer by trade and this comes across strongly in the way that she writes, without the legal vocabulary that can be confusing. Her prose is crisp and straightforward, and had I cared about what happened, would have been a pleasure to read.

      I really can’t recommend this book; the only reason it’s getting two stars rather than one is that I managed to finish it and I like the writing style. If you want to try this author, try the Helen West series, or the earlier books in the Sarah Fortune series.

      If you do want to try it (well, I warned you!), it is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Time Warner Books, it has 288 pages. ISBN: 0751536210


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