Sophie Hannah, “The Dead Lie Down”

Well, Amazon may be promoting Sophie Hannah by interviewing her along with the goddess Tana French, and she may indeed be a very smart girl, but The Dead Lie Down was not my favorite mystery of the month. I know I’ve blogged about how appealing crazy narrators can be — I’d forgotten that they can also be deeply unappealing. Henceforth, I will have to clarify that they must be charming to keep me on the hook. Ruth Bussey, Nutcase Narrator #1, is one of those needy humorless ones, the kind who might try to buttonhole you by the detergent at the supermarket and if you weren’t careful you’d end up taking care of her cat. Or listening to all the terrible things that have happened to her. (And they are pretty bad.) Then there’s Nutcase Narrator #2, Charlie Zailer, a policewoman. Ruth turns to Charlie when she begins to have suspicions about the man in her life. Bad things have also happened to Charlie, and Ruth admires her for her resilience.

The mighty shadow of Ruth Rendell lies heavily on this novel, but Hannah doesn’t have quite the readability that enlivens Rendell’s output. If I’m going to spend several hundred pages in the presence of very disturbed people, I am going to want something besides horrified curiosity to keep me interested. Hannah leans heavily on plot for this, but it was awfully convoluted.

Here goes. Aidan Seed told Ruth Bussey that he had killed a woman named Mary Trelease. But Mary Trelease is still alive. Ruth goes to the police (that’s Charlie Zailer) saying that she fears something bad will happen. Oh, golly, I can’t really take it any further. There are paintings: Aidan’s or Mary’s. There is a murder, beyond gruesome. There are flashbacks and multiple narrators, and a sinister girls’ boarding school. Or maybe not sinister? Charlie hasn’t slept with her fiancé Simon and I’m still not sure why I know that. My enthusiasm for this kind of creepiness is pretty limited, and I think I’ll stick to Rendell as my provider.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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