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Book DetailsISBN: 9781471198564
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Book Review: House of Correction by Nicci French - Reviewed by CloggieA (07 Aug 2020)
5 stars “Tabitha had heard of those dreams where people find themselves on a stage, not knowing the lines, not even knowing what the play is. She had never been on a stage and she had never dreamed about being on stage, so she had never understood the anxiety behind it. She understood now.”
House of Correction is the fourteenth stand-alone novel by British writing duo, Nicci French. In a cell in Crow Grange prison in Devon, on remand for the charge of murder, Tabitha Hardy is bewildered. It is true that the body of Stuart Rees, dead from multiple stab wounds, was found in the shed in her back garden; it is true that Tabitha had his blood on her when the police came; it is true that many believe the history Tabitha has with Stuart constitutes a clear motive for murder.
But Tabitha’s memory of the day is clouded: she was deep in a depressive fugue and can recall only snippets: “She felt like the last fragments of memory were flowing away like water through her fingers”; she simply can’t believe, though, that she could have murdered a man without remembering that she did so. Nor is she the sort of person who would commit murder; both surely convincing arguments for innocence?
Of the possible pleas she can make (not guilty, guilty of manslaughter, guilty with diminished responsibility) her court-appointed solicitor maintains that pleading guilty of manslaughter will result in the best possible outcome. But Tabitha has one very compelling reason to ignore that advice in favour of a not guilty plea.
Can Tabitha, a freelance copy-editor of science texts, really conduct her own defence?
At first, Tabitha seems to be hopelessly out of her depth and the challenges she faces seem insurmountable, given her lack of expertise, her confinement, her initial reluctance to request help, and her social ineptitude. But she is surprised to discover there are people who want to help her, perhaps the nearest thing to friendship she has ever encountered.
Sometimes Tabitha seems to have good insight into her own behaviour; at other times, she seems woefully naïve. But ultimately “The events of the past months had shone a bright and unforgiving spotlight on how people saw her: as plain or even ugly, as mannish, weird, ridiculous, dysfunctional, angry, pathetic, capable of killing someone.” Initially the story seems a touch bleak, perhaps tragicomic, with a sense of foreboding, until the courtroom scenes are reached, when the reader may be surprised to find themselves exclaiming, laughing out loud and cheering in what must be the most entertaining courtroom scenes since that Australian classic movie, The Castle.
These authors are so skilled at both characters and plot, they easily have the reader rooting for the underdog despite what sometimes seems like (perhaps naïve) self-sabotage, and keep the reader guessing right through to the final pages. The sense of powerlessness that must be felt by any first-time prisoner, and all the tiny factors that lead to it, are expertly depicted. This is a cleverly-plotted murder mystery, full of intrigue and thought-provoking themes, but also darkly funny and hugely entertaining. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia.
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