“ Author: Sophie Hannah / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 03 September 2009 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division / Title: The Other Half Lives / ISBN 13: 9780340933152 / ISBN 10: 0340933152 „
I didn't like Ruth Bussey when she walked into the Police Station. Cutting a drab figure and barely able to produce a coherent sentence, she seemed pale, dull and weak as dirty water. The officer interviewing her, Charlie (Charlotte) Zailer listened to her confused babble with less sympathy than even I did. Ruth seemed to think that her boyfriend, probably an equally boring human being, had confessed to murdering someone. Someone we hadn't been introduced to and really couldn't care about. The plot revolves around Ruth's belief that this person is, after all, alive.
I yawned my way through the first part of this book, puzzled by the inclusion of Charlie Zailer's disinterested engagement to another officer, the lengthy descriptions of her colleagues. But suddenly, curled up on the sunlit TGV, I began to feel absorbed in this gritty little story. The pace picked up and my first impressions of the characters were cast aside. Digging through the saga of how Bussey came to arrive in the little town of Spilling and her turbulent introduction to the paintings which became her passion, I watched this unfurl like a primetime BBC drama. The kind of thing you catch halfway through while idly hopping channels after some soap, then watch to the bitter end and make yourself late to bed.
The characters in this are by no means as well rounded as they could be, there was one exceptional character in the supposedly dead Mary Trealease, a damaged and demented crone in a fog of smoke and mint tea, she was someone I liked and hated alternately. I felt after finishing the book that I still didn't really know some of the key players, including Ruth's fiancée Aiden. In many cases I wasn't convinced by their motivations. But then at the time of reading, I wasn't aware that this book was part of a series focusing on Charlie and her fiancée, Simon. In my defence, it wasn't labelled as such and when I chose it at Christmas as a present to me from Dad, it looked like as a stand alone novel.
I don't think I would necessarily chose another book from the series, but it's the hallmark of a good book that I changed my opinion of Ruth and Charlie so much as the plot thickened. Ruth is revealed as strong, Charlie becomes less uptight and the connections between the characters unpick for a surprisingly satisfying ending; I even came to like Charlie. My curiosity as to what it was from her past that Ruth was trying to escape grew as I leafed through. This is a book loaded with action and atmosphere more than emotion and the whodunit element gives enough direction to make the reader finish it. My main criticism would be that at 550 pages, it takes too long to get started.
If you enjoy crime dramas and detective stories, then certainly this is better written than most, with settings that seem familiar to the author and believable crime. Once the book picks up and stops the endless introductions, it starts to solve the puzzle and actually becomes very readable. It wasn't predictable and once it got going it held my interest, so I think three stars are in order based on my overall opinion. As far as I'm concerned, the first half of this book dies a death but the second half lives.
When Ruth Bussey's boyfriend Aidan confesses to murdering someone, Ruth is understandably shocked. Her shock deepens when her boyfriend tells her the name of the woman he murdered: Mary Trelease. The thing is Ruth knows a woman called Mary Trelease and she's very much alive. Ruth and Aidan separately visit the police to tell them of Aidan's shocking confession - Ruth is adamant that Aidan hasn't killed this woman whereas Aidan is even more adamant he did kill her. As Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse begin to investigate, they unravel a series of coincidences in their bid to find out just why a man would confess to the murder of someone who's seemingly still alive.
When I picked up Sophie Hannah's second book, Hurting Distance, is was actually by accident as at the time I generally wasn't a fan of psychological thrillers however I found Hurting Distance very absorbing and I struggled to put it down. I then managed to pick up her debut and although I didn't enjoy it as much as Hurting Distance I still found it very absorbing and set about getting all of Sophie's books. The Other Half Lives is her most recent and I looked forward to getting myself stuck into such a huge book.
Like her other books The Other Half Lives alternates between third and first person narratives. The first person narrative is usually told from our lead female character whereas the third person narrative is to do with the investigation itself. It's a very clever writing style as I don't think choosing just one of the writing styles would work for this type of book. As it is we get the chance to really get to know the victim, who in this instance would be Ruth, as well as getting to see as an overview, how the police work the case in progress.
As far as plot goes The Other Half Lives is ridiculously complex. The book has hundreds of different strands running at any given time meaning that to keep all of the threads correct in your head you need to give this book 100% of your attention because it's incredibly easy to get lost off if you lose concentration even for a second. No matter how complex the plot is, it's also incredibly clever. I constantly tried to guess just why Aidan had confessed to Ruth that he had killed a woman who was so blatantly alive. Hannah worked this part of the plot very well and doesn't reveal a thing about why Aidan confessed until well into the book. Of course a plot of such magnitude needs a lot of coincidences to happen for it all to fall into place. The way in which everything slots into place is incredibly coincidental but I was still riveted. Sure, the plot may seem convoluted and incredibly confusing but you can't fault how riveting the entire thing was.
I have to admit that the weakest point of the book were the characters. For the most part Ruth came across as a complete basket-case and I constantly thought she needed taken away by the men in white jackets. Of course, for most of the book, Ruth is carrying an incredibly sad secret which made me feel more sympathy towards her. I just couldn't fathom how a woman who went through such a distressing time at the hands of someone else was happy to stay with a man who freely confessed to killing a woman. Regardless of whether the woman in question is alive, it still begs a lot of questions. I can't say I liked Aidan - he never really came across as a nice person and I just couldn't see why Ruth was so attracted to him. It rather astounds me that the only character I actually liked was Mary Trelease. That may well surprise those have read the book but... I can't explain it, she was the only character who seemed relatively sane (oh the irony). Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse, from Hannah's other books, are the main police officers throughout the book and it seems that, from Hurting Distance (there's a third book I haven't read) they seem to be engaged. I felt there was a huge lack of explanation on Hannah's part there - a brief paragraph about the previous books would have been sufficient somewhere near the beginning of the book because otherwise this book doesn't work as a stand-alone book. It also seems that Charlie and Simon seem to have had personality transplants. There were glimmers of the pair from Hurting Distance but bar that, they seem to have changed. It was as if they were two totally different characters. There were plenty of superfluous characters in the book - most of them being co-workers of Charlie and Simon who only seemed to be there to fill the pages.
As I've mentioned there appears to be a lot of filler in the book. The trade paperback has a massive 550 pages and, although I wouldn't be able to pick what could have been edited out, I did feel as if there were parts that could have been shortened/cut out completely. The book definitely could have been streamlined into a more manageable book. Another huge problem I had with the book was the ending. It seemed rather abrupt and convenient. To throw in such a random accusation/truth right at the end to try and justify something so horrid was irritating and was a huge let down for me. There was absolutely no mention of the harm suffered throughout the entire book up until the second to last chapter so it all seemed forced. I would also have liked a bit more explanation - after the big dramatic scene near the end, things wrapped up incredibly quickly and I was left feeling let down. Apart from those final twenty pages I really rate Sophie Hannah's writing. She can weave a massive web and manages to somehow pass it all off by the time I reach the end of the book.
If you're a fan of psychological suspense books but haven't yet read one of Sophie's books I'd probably recommend you start with her first book and work your way through the series (Little Face, Hurting Distance, The Point of Rescue & The Other Half Lives) as there's a huge lack of explanation in her more recent books about what went on in earlier books. Not to mention the fact her first two books were excellent where as I thought this book was only OK. If you've read her other books, give it a read. If not, start with her first.
One half dies....the other half lives...
"Why would anyone confess to the murder of someone who isn't dead?"
Ruth Bussey knows what it means to be in the wrong and to be wronged. She once did something she regrets, and her punishment nearly destroyed her. Now Ruth is rebuilding her life, and has found a love she doesn't believe she deserves: Aidan Seed. Aidan is also troubled by a past he can't bear to talk about, until one day he decides he must confide in Ruth. He tells her that years ago he killed someone: a woman called Mary Trelease.
Ruth is confused. She's certain she's heard the name Mary Trelease before, and when she realises why it sounds familiar, her fear and confusion deepen - because the Mary Trelease that Ruth knows is very much alive...
I had been eagerly awaiting the release of this book in paperback format, as I thoroughly enjoyed Sophie Hannah's previous novels : 'Little Face', 'Hurting Distance' and 'The Point Of Rescue'.
I really enjoy a good psychological thriller and Sophie Hannah's previous thrillers did not disappoint, so I could not wait to get stuck into 'The Other Half Lives'.
The story begins in December 2007, with Ruth and Aidan in a hotel room, 'confessing' to each other their troubled pasts.
Whilst Ruth finds it very difficult to speak of what she did wrong, Aidan, on the other hand, seems to find it a lot easier to confess to Ruth that years ago, he killed a woman named Mary Trelease.
The book then jumps forward to just over two months later, to the end of February 2008, and Ruth is sitting outside Spilling Police Station watching former DS but now only Sgt, Charlotte(Charlie) Zailer arrive for work. Ruth approaches Charlie and tells her she must speak with her. Inside the station, Ruth explains Aidan's confession, but informs her that she knows for a fact Mary Trelease is not dead.
Meanwhile, Aidan himself is making his own confession to the police, and so begins a bizarre investigation into a murder which does not seem to have ever taken place!
Once again Sophie Hannah has came up with a good plot which draws you into the book immediately.
However, after reading the first 90 pages, I began to feel a little bored. The source of my boredom, was surprisingly the sub-storyline featuring DS Charlie Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse.
I say surprisingly, because the pair both feature in Sophie Hannah's previous novels and I found their relationship intriguing. They had a certain chemistry between them, yet often a love/hate relationship and it was interesting to see this develop through the previous novels.
I will point out here that you do not have to read Sophie Hannah's previous novels prior to reading this one, as they are all stand alone novels, but the two detectives do feature in each one. Some of their history is referred to in this book to bring new readers up to speed.
In this novel, the detectives get engaged and this part of the story just didn't seem to work for me.
In the previous novels there was a chemistry evident between them, yet I could never actually imagine the pair getting married, as they both seemed to have issues with being in relationships and also intimacy.
Yet here they are throwing an engagement party, attended by family and friends who also seem to be wondering why they are getting married.
Their supposed 'romance' has became so unconvincing here that I began to find it tedious to read about, hence my boredom. Anyone reading this book will surely wonder why they ever became involved in the first place!
After starting the story so well, the author focuses far too long on the engagement party and the detectives relationship with their boss, Proust.
Fortunately, the story picks up again, although it never seemed to grip me as much as her previous novels.
The characters of Ruth and Aidan, although well developed enough, did not have enough about them to make them really interesting. Ruth in particular I found quite irritating at times and bordering on pathetic. There was nothing about either of them which particularly intrigued me.
The plot seemed to become overly complicated, almost as if the author has tried too hard with this one. Aidan and Ruth both work in the picture framing business, and the revenge and jealousy featured in the Art world I found to be almost as tedious as the detectives relationship.
The plot does have a few twists and turns and overall I feel that this could have been a really good book just like its predecessors, if only it had been shorter and not as overly-complicated, if only I could have found more affinity with the characters and if only less time had been taken up with the detectives', now tiresome, relationship.
The author seems to have changed the detectives characters and I found I no longer cared about either of them, where this was not the case in the earlier novels.
I kept on reading, as despite everything, I did want to know how it ended and also as I had enjoyed the previous books so much, I kept believing it would get better, and whilst there were plenty of hints that it would, it just never seemed to get there.
The book was too long and would have had a far better impact if shortened. By the time I reached the end I was past caring what had happened!
If the book had been written by someone whose work I had not read before, then I don't think I would have finished reading this. Overall I was left feeling the author had tried to hard with this one - and failed. She is currently working on a new novel, and once again I will probably buy a copy to read and hope she returns to the gripping thrillers she wrote prior to this one.
Sophie's Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer novels are currently being adapted for television, so I hope they can make the characters as interesting as they were originally.
I was a big fan of Sophie Hannah prior to reading this, so I hope her new novel is the thrilling read I had hoped this would be.