I'm a big fan of Erin Kelly. It's been a while since I read The Poison Tree, which was also made into a compelling TV drama, and of course, who doesn't love the TV series of Broadchurch which Kelly has adapted into accompanying novels. But the real reason I'm such a fan is because I have seen her speak at a few live panel events and was impressed with both the interesting content of her contributions, but also her vivaciousness, articulation and lively presence. Kelly is also a member of Killer Women; a group of not only criminally good writers, but also of totally awesome women!
So I did not hesitate to request her new novel He Said She Said as soon as I saw it was available and was delighted to be approved for a copy!
The cover and the title are immediately very intriguing, suggesting division, that the reader may be pulled between two different characters and told different versions of the same events. Classic components for a compelling thriller.
And that's exactly what this novel is. It is absolutely compelling and it is absolutely thrilling. Kelly has absolutely mastered how to create suspense, tension and intrigue and how to exploit all the classic components of a psychological thriller to full effect.
The reason why her novel is such a success as a TV drama, and why she understands TV dramas well enough to transfer them into novels, must be because Kelly completely understands what makes a story work, what makes it come alive and what makes it a page turner. She knows how to structure a story. She can build pace and characters which ensure the reader is captivated until the final page- when they will suddenly realise they have bitten their nails down to their finger tips!
This novel is about Laura and Kit who travel the world to watch eclipses - the moment when the moon passes the sun and the world is momentarily plunged into darkness. Kit is fascinated by them and owns a huge wall map that has all the future paths of the eclipses marked out for the rest of his days - he literally has mapped out his life through the future eclipses.
At one festival, after having watched one eclipse, Laura stumbles across a violent scene between a man and a woman. She reports the scene. In doing so changes the course of each of the lives of the persons involved; the man who is later arrested, the female victim, but also her and Kit's life. Fifteen years later and they are still living in fear. So much so that they have done everything they can to ensure they are untraceable. That they can never be found.
The use of an eclipse as the central focus for the novel is very imaginative. An eclipse is a thing governed by physics, laws, proven facts but still a wonder and still a phenomena. It is a clever metaphor for a psychological thriller where things are hidden, not always fully revealed and where things often operate against the rules or in a mysterious way. Just as the eclipse plunges the world into darkness, so too can the actions of one person against another. Just as there can be a moment of clarity when the sun returns from behind the moon, so too can there be for there reader once they have witnessed something dramatic. Once the eclipse is over, there might be a sense of a new perspective once the wonder has passed. Just like in life after key moments, surviving dangerous situations, when secrets are discovered or friendships tested. Or conversely for some of the characters, there is a sense of bleakness as the world returns to normal and they are left empty, waiting for the next eclipse. This is like me when I closed the book; bereft and not wanting to return to the real world where there are no more new Kelly books to devour!
And failing all of that, the theme of the eclipse gives Kelly an interesting hobby for her protagonists and an interesting excuse for them to be out of the country!
The novel is structured into five sections, cleverly named after the five stages of an eclipse which again perfectly mirrors the tension of the physical astronomical event with the tension of the storyline. The first section is set in the past at the trial following the brutal scene Laura witnessed between the characters Beth and Jamie.
The court scenes were very powerful. They felt so authentic and realistic I felt as if I was sat there in the room with the judge, jury, the victim, the villain, the prosecution and the defence. The scenes are so well written that I felt the emotion of the characters involved, as pulled and pushed and as frustrated as they were during their intense questioning and cross examining. It is a rape trial and Kelly is brave to tackle a subject which is so highly emotive and highly charged but I have to say this is one of the best court scenes I have ever read. The character of the journalist which hovers in the background was a effective touch too:
"Yeah, it's a rape this morning," she said, with all the detachment of someone describing a routine dental appointment.
The court scenes in He Said She Said did remind me a little of Apple Tree Yard but I found Kelly's writing completely page turning and so well constructed that they were very powerful.
The difference in Laura's perception of the trial and Kit's is also very interesting. Kit needs to see things through evidence and in a "way he can trust; observed through a microscope and coded as data". While Laura's reactions are much more intuitive and emotional. When Laura watches Jamie take the stand the suspense is incredible; the way she watches Jamie manipulate the court room is brilliantly observed.
.........the irony struck me that a man on trial for rape could be so seductive .........as if it pained him to be so unchivalrous......God, he was good.
The novel continues, switching between the present and the past. The present is also split into two narratives; Laura in London and Kit on his next trip to watch an eclipse. I love split narratives, I like time switches and I love trying to piece together a story. I'm not always very good at catching all the clues but I loved being caught up in the nail biting, breath taking, jaw dropping journey as the plot spun and turned unexpectedly like a planet losing it's orbit until finally the dramatic, chilling ending was as stunning as the stars on a clear night sky.
I really identified with Laura. She was so convincing and so well depicted that I was totally sympathetic towards her. She had flaws, she made mistakes and she was tortured by some of the decisions she'd made in the past. She was also scared, anxious and ruined from that one event all those years ago. Kit too was well created. Equally likeable and relatable. Beth was one complex, jumbled mess that kept me guessing, kept me confused, kept me alert and watchful. Kelly's characterisation was brilliant. The dynamics between them all was so intense, so palpable, so real and so evocative that I couldn't help but become embroiled in their situations.
I liked that all the characters had secrets, all were hiding things, all were vulnerable and all were so tangled up in such a complex constellation they would blind any onlooker.
There was great writing throughout this novel. Some of the sentences I really liked were those which captured the theme of stars, astronomy, darkness and light.
...the fear of a few seconds ago seem unfounded, as nightmares always do when the light comes back on....
I also liked the lines which showed how vulnerable people are and how easy it is for a situation to escalate out of control; how sometimes you end up complicating something until it becomes something bigger than you. How easy it is to cross the line....
I learned a long time ago that the moment you start to think about the logistics of an act - even if you're only daydreaming ways you might go about it - you've already crossed a line.
And there are so many lines that the characters cross - boundaries between countries, between time, between friends, between man and woman, between right and wrong, truth and lies.... As I said, Kelly has exploited every ingredient of a classic physcological thriller to write a really gripping page turner.
The ending was chilling. I love an ending that makes you re-evaluate characters and think back on what they said; what he said, what she said...... A final twist to leave you reeling.
For me, this book was as mesmerising as the eclipses it describes. There was the same anticipation before the event, the same build up, tension and excitement before the actual moment of revelation. Then followed the moment of clarity when everything suddenly became clear and finally, the emptiness afterwards; the lingering feeling as you try and process everything you've just witnessed. It was all over so quickly I was left reeling trying to recapture every detail. Hungry for the next Erin Kelly novel!
He Said She Said is published on 20th April by Hodder Stoughton.
To find out more about Erin Kelly you can follow her on Twitter @mserinkelly or check out her website erinkelly.co.uk or her page on Killer Women Killer Women
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk