Monday, 5 September 2016
The Loving Husband by Christobel Kent
[Fran is going to a work party, after some time as a stay-at-home mother]
‘You are so elegant,’ Katrina [the babysitter] told her when she came out ready to leave.
‘I wish,’ she said, but they smiled at each other. Emme on the floor beside her looked up, wide-eyed, then tipped forward to stroke a shoe, which was dark red suede, a high heel, too impractical for anything but a party. The dress – it was silk, a long-ago present from Nick and he’d never worn it with Nathan out of anxiety that somehow he’d know – was looser than before but as far as she could tell not shapeless, a deep slit at the back.
The magazine had done a deal with the management of the vast art-deco hotel off Piccadilly Circus with a newly refurbished club in its basement, cavernous and gleaming with gold tile and mirrors, dark polished rails, mahogany and velvet. It had been so long since she’d walked into a scene like this, the glitter of jewellery swinging from women’s ears, in their hair, the tight little groups, the trays of tall shining glasses skimming the crowd, but even as she stepped into the soft dark at the bottom of the stairs it came to greet her, folded itself around her, warm and familiar as if she’d never been away.
commentary: Fran is not long for the London life: she and her husband and two children are going to move to the country – out to the dark drear fens, lonely rural villages, miserable weather, and a fairly horrible house. The dark clouds looming are, I think, technically known as the pathetic fallacy (not as rude as it sounds, I promise).
It is very well done – Kent is a most proficient writer, excellent at atmosphere and tension. But the trouble is, she always wrote so well about Italy, the very opposite in every respect from the landscape and setting of this book. I covered her book A Party at San Niccolo on the blog, and I loved her series about private eye Sandro Cellini. So while I give her every credit for this tense thriller, I can’t help missing Italy, which is probably the last thing an author wants to hear.
In the opening pages, Fran’s husband Nathan is found dead outside their lonely farmhouse. As the investigation gets underway, it’s obvious there is a lot going on here, mysteries and secrets, and the police are asking hard questions and maybe suspect her. Fran doesn’t have any friends and family nearby: she is isolated, and desperate to protect her children. It isn’t hard to guess that Nathan wasn’t even as nice as he seemed (and that’s not saying much) but this is a twisty plot, very clever, and full of surprises. Although I guessed a few things, Kent was still able to confound me. Many of the tropes are familiar, but she uses them to very good effect. The ending is one revelation after another – not terribly likely perhaps, but I don’t care: I’m always willing to suspend disbelief for some nice plot reversals. Though at the end of the book I was still very unsure about the fate of one character.
So this is a perfect modern British thriller, in the vein of many recent bestsellers. But perhaps there could be some need to go to Italy (sunshine, those roofs, olive groves, Italian wine, mozzarella) in the next one?