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Too Much Going On: A Child’s Book of True Crime

A Child's Book of True CrimeA Child’s Book of True Crime by Chloe Hooper

Kate Byrne is having an affair with the father of her most gifted pupil, Lucien. Unnervingly, her lover’s wife has just published Murder at Black Swan Point, a true crime novel about the brutal slaying of a young adulteress. Suspecting the adult account of Black Swan Point’s murder to be wrong, Kate imagines her own version of the novel, for children, narrated by Australian animals. But has her obsession with the crime aligned her fate with that of the murdered adulteress?

First Impressions: Not sure… I didn’t realise it was set in Tasmania. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a novel set in Tasmania before!

Highlights: I was surprised by all the references to Tasmania’s penal colony past but I liked this as it was an original way of highlighting how we brush over crime. Crimes of the past – either 10 or 150 years ago – are like an archaeological excavation, or a set of matrioshki dolls. Kate’s character was interesting in that I wondered how much of the Murder at Black Swan Point story was created in her mind. She’s very lonely with too much time to think. I would have liked her obsessiveness about her situation to be more pronounced.

If I was an editor: I think there’s too much going on in this novel. There are lots of good ideas in the novel – two I have mentioned in my highlights – but as there are so many of these ideas I don’t think any of them are developed enough to become clever like in Hooper’s second novel The Engagement.

I didn’t particularly enjoy Kate’s children’s novel. I didn’t have a problem that it was narrated by Australian animals but it was certainly not in children’s language and I still don’t fully understand why she is writing it for Lucien. Also, I felt the wise philosophical conversations she has with her students were unrealistic. Kate, being a new teacher, still owns all the textbooks about child psychology and by the end she was trying to assess Lucien but it wasn’t coherent enough across the novel. This is another example of a narrative strand that could have been brilliant but was not given enough space.

Overall: Could be a very interesting meditation on adultery.

A Child’s Book of True Crime: 3 Stars

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Contemporary Gothic: The Engagement

The EngagementThe Engagement by Chloe Hooper

Liese has been working at her uncle’s estate agency in Melbourne. The luxury apartments Liese shows handsome farmer Alexander Colquhoun become sets for a relationship that satisfies their fantasies – and helps pay her debts. It’s a game. Both players understand the rules. Or so she thinks.
When Alexander pays Liese to spend a weekend with him on his remote property, she senses a change in him. A new game has begun in this psychological thriller for the modern age.

First Impressions: From the first few pages I could tell I would really enjoy this novel. I also felt some relief as when The Engagement was published I (unfortunately) read many middling reviews which didn’t inspire me to read it at the time.

Highlights: I loved Hooper’s contemporary Australian twists on both gothic writing and Dutch still life paintings. It was all subtle rather than overdone and highly entertaining. Liese is an unreliable yet reliable narrator and for some reason I enjoyed her background life in architecture. I enjoyed and appreciated Hooper’s description of the nondescript Norwich suburbs; it felt accurate and could be AnyUnremarkableTown, UK. In a nutshell, Hooper’s writing style and plot had me hooked. I read it in one day which is rare for me at the moment. I also love this cover.

If I was an editor: I would be aghast at the middling reviews I mentioned earlier. Sure, it is more literary than a lot of thrillers so perhaps the reviewers missed the point.

Overall: A few days on and I wonder if it is all just meant to be hilarious rather than alarming!

The Engagement: 5 Stars