REVIEW: THREE HOURS LATE BY NICOLE TROPE

THREE DAYS LATE

Author: Nicole Trope
Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Three Hours LateThe sensitive and highly emotive issue of domestic violence is examined with a discerning albeit stomach-clenching touch in Nicole Trope’s latest novel, Three Hours Late. The suspense is rendered with an expert touch, delivering readers an edge-of-the-seat novel that will have them holding their breath right until the end. For most readers, it will be a ‘just one more chapter’ read, quickly finished to allay the mounting plot tension; some, however, may find it more difficult to take in too much at once owing to feelings triggered by their own experiences, requiring reading with small breaks. I know, because that’s what I had to do.

Once, so very long ago, she had watched him like this when he came to pick her up from a date…Her stomach fluttered and burned with infatuation and desire. She would watch him walk up the path and think, ‘This must be love.’

Alex is never late. Liz’s estranged husband has always made a point of punctuality, so when he is a few minutes late bringing their three-year-old son back from an access visit, Liz knows something is not right. Her concern stems from a brief discussion she had with Alex when he arrived to pick up Luke – a discussion based on a big mistake she made the night before. It didn’t go well. Alex was keen to discuss getting back together so they could be a family again; still berating herself for an ill-timed mistake, Liz wanted to avoid the subject – she’d already told Alex repeatedly it was over. Hours later, as Liz waits for her son, she reflects on how her marriage went so wrong – how the binds that held it together were strong for all the wrong reasons. All that’s important now is her son Luke and making sure he is happy and safe … and Alex’s lateness is making her question that.

Is Alex just late, as her mother and the police initially suggest? Or is he deliberately late as a means of punishing Liz for refusing to discuss reuniting? Is his lateness yet another way for Alex to exert control over Liz, to manipulate her by using their son as a pawn? Is it some form of warped mind game? As time goes on, Liz is more and more convinced that this is the case and now she has to convince the police that her concerns are valid – that she’s not overreacting. She’s never reported his abuse, so all she has as evidence is his lateness and an increasing sense of desperation … but then everything changes.

As I read Three Days Late, I felt almost as tightly coiled as Liz as she tried to articulate a fear with emotive, or psychological, rather than logical origins. Trope’s skill at creating an atmosphere of suspense and characterisation can be attributed to this in part, however, for me there was more to it. I could completely relate to Liz’s distress as she tried to get the police to understand why she was concerned by Alex’s lateness with not much to go on but a feeling. Not just because I am a mother, but because, in my way, years ago, I’ve been there. All I want to say here is that I understand how an email or a phone conversation can make your body go cold, your heart beat faster, your breath shallow. I know about walking on eggshells. I think any book can trigger responses like this if it matches your frame of reference in some way and the decision then has to be made – can I read this, or is it too close? I chose to read Three Days Late because I love a good suspense, but the nature of the psychological suspense of this one did get to me more than it would normally. It meant that I did have to read this in short bursts, take a break and come back to it later. Something tells me I won’t be the only one.

Trope shows great empathy as a writer. Tackling issues like domestic violence is not easy, but she has done it in a way that emphasises  there is a lot more to DV than physical harm. Psychological harm can be just as damaging; it’s much more subtle and harder to prove.  It is very hard for the abused to break out of such situations – and difficult for others to watch them return to the same situation – I know that. But saying, “Just leave” is like saying to a person with depression, “Get over it” or “Smile, you’ve got so much to live for”. There’s so much under the surface – issues of co-dependency, fear, self-doubt and lack of self-worth, and more. Women (and men) need ongoing support to make that happen, which is why I was so pleased to see a DV support group play a role in this novel. The scene where the counsellor is confronted by one of the women and accused of having no real idea of what they were going through is particularly poignant. I loved how the counsellor handled it, even though I was shocked at the same time. Kudos for Trope for raising awareness of such an important issue – my hope is that more readers will use what they learn to support and empathise, rather than judge people for not getting out.

I started this review with no idea what I was going to write. In the end, I chose not to focus on characterisation or structure, but on an issue that I believe needs more awareness. I’m grateful to Trope for assisting with that. That issue aside, Three Hours Late is loaded with tension, bristling with suspense and blanketed with empathy – all in all, an enthralling read.

Here are some facts about DV for those interested. If you are experiencing domestic violence, call Lifeline on 131114 (Australia). Free counselling is available through the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732.

Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin. To read a free extract, click here.

Bookish treat: Some warm, buttered toast and a cup of tea made me feel better after all that tension.