Over the course of nine books and books and nine fiendishly complicated cases investigated by the Spilling police force I have had some ups and downs. I have read some fabulous stories, with the kind of wonderfully twisty plot that no-one else I can think of could produce; and even when I have found failings they have been balanced by good things that have stopped the lows being too low.
I could tell you where each of those first nine books comes on that scale but not this one.
It’s a strange one.
It follows has many of the same features as the books that came before, but thing are a little different this time around.
The scenario is a little less inventive than usual; it could have come from one of those contemporary crime novels that I like the look of but don’t really feel the need to read..
The story opens with the Spilling detectives working with two other police forces, trying to catch a killer they are calling ‘Billy Dead Mates’. He has killed two pairs of best friends; not together, one at a time. Each of them has been killed in their own home, shot dead with no sign of a struggle or of forced entry.
There is nothing to link the two pairs of friends.
Except that each of them had been given a small white book in which a single line of poetry has been written.
That was the touch that told me that this was Sophie Hannah.
The story needed something to elevate it, and it had something.
It had the draft manuscript of a book by Kim Tribbeck, a stand-up comedian who had been caught up in the case.
She had been given one of the small white books, but she hadn’t died, and she didn’t have a best friend. She had an ex husband, she had an ex lover, but she wasn’t close to anyone at all.
Her narrative voice was wonderful, and though she wasn’t likeable she was a fascinating character.
I was sorry that she spent so much time entangled in a sub plot with one of the Spilling detectives. They’re interesting at work, but when the story looks into their personal lives it just don’t work. Enough!
There was a radical feminist writer caught up in the case too. She was convinced that the killings were femicide, ignoring the fact that one of the four friends was male, and she was receiving letters arguing with her position on just about everything from somebody who might or might not of been the killer.
There were stories too; some of them from a rare book that had been given to Kim by her former lover.
And so you have it:
Crime + Comedy + Literature + Satire + Radical Feminism
None of the elements were great on their own, but they came together to make a fabulous, page-turning story.
I had an idea of who the killer was, but I didn’t know how or why. When the answer came, I realised that the clues had been there.
That’s not what I expect from Sophie Hannah. I’m used to her tying a plot into complex knots that appear impossible to undo, then throwing the whole thing up into the air with a flourish and having it land as a clear picture, that I never would have foreseen but I had to acknowledge made sense.
The answer was both inspired and ludicrous. The logic worked but it was so improbable.
I had to love it. But I can understand why others don’t.
I accept that the world of this book isn’t quite like the real world, and it isn’t quite like the world you find in other crime novels either.
It allows Sophie Hannah to create intriguing puzzles, to say things about the state of the world, and to do things that no other crime writer can.
I hope she’ll go on doing it for a very long time, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what she’ll do next
4 thoughts on “The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah (2016)”
This is a great review Jane. Like you, I’ve followed all the Spilling police force stories and NO-ONE could come up with the plots Sophie Hannah does – what a fiendishly strange brain she has! I listened to her at Bloody Scotland, when she was promoting A Game For All The Family (and everyone else was off watching the Scotland v England game!) But I’m so glad I heard her speak – she’s quite the raconteur! I’m looking forward to this one too; I must squeeze it in this week! But yes, loved your review!
I do enjoy Sophie Hannah’s Spilling crime series, and I’m not a great reader of contemporary crime. I’m really looking forward to this now 🙂
How interesting! I have read a couple of Virago crime novels which I’ve found enjoyable and interesting, so maybe a theme to pursue.
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