THE TELLING ERROR
Author: Sophie Hannah
H & S Fiction RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
One of those books that leaves as many questions unanswered as it answers, The Telling Error reminded me what I liked about Sophie Hannah’s writing. Her last book, The Carrier, left me a little flat, so I had high hopes this book would live up to its marketing tag, “a new literary mystery that’s impossible to solve”. I need not have worried – this book, the latest in the Culver Valley series featuring Simon Waterhouse and his wife Charlie, had me stumped from the outset.
Damon Blundy, a reviled columnist, is found dead in strange circumstances; since he has so many enemies, the police have their work cut out for them. What do the words “No less dead” mean? Why did the killer leave Blundy’s computer password for them to find? Who killed him? Was it his wife, who is certain her husband did not love her because he was too nice to her? Was it Nikki, a woman caught on CCTV trying to avoid a police roadblock on the dead man’s street? Was it his foe in print, MP Paula Riddiough, a beautiful but manipulative woman police allege was the dead man’s lover? Or was it one of three men he regularly singled out for attack in his column? Everyone the police talks to seems to have their story straight, but one of them must have made a telling error.
The Telling Error has a complex storyline with a number of narrators. A first-person narrative is used to share Nikki’s thoughts up to and after the murder – it’s disconcerting because its fast evident to the reader that Nikki is unreliable, is prone to lying and has a secret life. It’s hard to know what to believe with Nikki – this is an assessment the reader shares with the investigating police. Her manner makes her rather difficult to like, which would be off-putting for some readers, but as her family background is revealed, a level of sympathy is reached. Third-person narrative describes the police investigations, giving a glimpse into the different directions and interpretations the events present to them. Interspersed with this are Blundy’s columns (more like tirades and not something I could see being published here in Australia), emails, tweets, and online posts to the dating website, Intimate Connections. There’s a lot to take in.
The Telling Error is not simply a whodunnit. It’s a clever look at the human psyche – the fears, events and needs that motivate people. During the investigation Simon and Charlie see parallels to other relationships in their lives and these give vital clues as to possible motives for the killer. It’s also a timely comment on contemporary society and the challenges of increased online presence, including cyber-sex and online (if not physical) infidelity, as well as the terrible and lingering effects of childhood abuse. Nikki’s deceptive behaviour was largely explained by the end, but I was left wondering about Blundy and his alleged lover, Riddiough. Where they born narcissistic? Or did they become that way? Either way, they were bitter people …
Hannah reeled me in with her clever prose, well-crafted plot and psychological intrigue. I’d recommend it for those who enjoy a good psychological thriller, especially one that really is hard to solve.
Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. My copy was courtesy of Hachette.