REVIEW: THE CARRIER BY SOPHIE HANNAH

THE CARRIER

Author: Sophie Hannah
Hodder & Stoughton RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan Cover of The Carrier by Sophie Hannah

I’ve read a couple of Sophie Hannah’s novels before and found them well-written, suspenseful reads, so I was really looking forward to this one. I didn’t realise her books were part of a series best read in order, however, in hindsight, I think that would be a better plan. As I read The Carrier, I felt strongly that I was way out of touch – the recurring characters from Spilling CID seemed to have moved on a lot since the last book I’d read and I had a hard time trying to catch up.

The Carrier is not straightforward whodunit. Francine Breary has been murdered and her husband Tim is in prison, having confessed to her crime. He’s even given them evidence. He can’t give the police a motive, leading them to dub him the “Don’t Know Why Killer”. But not everyone, including Det. Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Charlie Zailer, thinks he did it. They just don’t know who else to suspect. Others think it’s a cut-and-dried case – or they want it to be – and they’re prepared to do what it takes to close the case fast.

Gaby Struthers doesn’t think Tim is a killer either. She found out about his imprisonment and confession in a rather bizarre way – stranded in Germany after plane delays, she is forced to share a room with an inexplicably terrified stranger, Lauren Cookson, who blurts out something about an innocent man going to prison for murder. After a bit of research, Gaby realises that the man Lauren is talking about is the man Gaby fell in love with several years earlier. In fact, she still loves him. Gaby returns to England to see what she can find out and whether she can help Tim. If he wants her help, that is. Gaby soon comes to realise that Lauren’s appearance in Germany at the same time as her was no coincidence. But why?

The Carrier has had mixed reviews – fairly equally split in both camps. I feel a bit torn, because I really didn’t enjoy The Carrier that much, and yet, I don’t like writing negative reviews. I was surprised by my reaction because I don’t remember feeling that way about Hannah’s previous books. She’s a very talented writer and adept at creating states of tension that crackle. I just didn’t feel it with this book. It seemed flat and slow and didn’t bring the promised “edge-of-your-seat” thrill I had expected. Why? Good question.

For starters, I didn’t like any of the characters in the book – not even the recurring ones. They grated on me and made me question whether I wanted to spend time with them. When I read a book, I want a reason to care about it, about the people in the book, about their situations – whether it’s a case they’re trying to solve or a dilemma they’re facing. I didn’t care. There were too many word games that could have been funny but just seemed like put downs and manipulation. For example, Lauren is in a different social class to Gaby; Gaby’s incredibly smart, attractive, wealthy … and Lauren is none of those things. She’s also erratic, hostile and highly anxious. Gaby refers to her in turn as Psycho Rag Doll and Angry Weeping Girl and repeatedly talks down to Lauren. I didn’t like Lauren’s behaviour, but I found Gaby’s condescending and off-putting. I found it equally hard to engage with any of the other characters, many of whom displayed questionable morals and ethics.

The story uses a number of different narrative methods – first person for Gaby’s viewpoint, third-person for the police and letters written to Francine. Switching between the first and third person is not an unusual technique – it was used successfully in Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner because the reader was able to identify with the victim – but I found it distracting and ineffective in terms of character development. The letters, however, were very interesting – they provided a great study of Francine, the murdered woman, as well as of the writers (also unlikeable characters).

Would I stop reading Sophie Hannah books now? Not at all. I’ve read enough to appreciate her talent and I would still recommend her as a writer. This one just didn’t work for me.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.