Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Confession by Jo Spain Review

Julie’s seemingly idyllic life is shattered one night when a stranger walks into her home and beats her banker husband near to death in front of her. He whispers something into his ear before giving himself up to the police and confessing to the assault – whydunit?

Jo Spain’s The Confession is a fairly decent crime/mystery novel. It has an uneven story that’s quite well-written and even occasionally compelling! However large parts of it are uninteresting and feel superfluous while the ending is a bit of an unsatisfying anti-climax.

The story is told from three perspectives: Julie, the victim’s wife; JP, the attacker; and DC Alice Moody, the investigating officer. I don’t know why Moody got her own chapters as they failed to add anything much overall and, despite some amusing dialogue between her and her boss, only added pointless pages to an already bloated narrative. Maybe, in the same vein as similar genre novels, Spain is trying to make her into a recurring character she’ll be able to build future books around like Michael Connelly’s Bosch or Ian Rankin’s Rebus, except Moody isn’t nearly as intriguing.

JP’s backstory was largely unnecessary too. We only really needed to catch up with him once his life crosses paths with the other characters; we didn’t need to hear about his gloomy childhood/adolescence, which, in its excessively depressing detail, just felt like reading misery-porn. Abusive drunk father, crazy mother, growing up poor in Ireland - yeesh, what is this, Angela’s Ashes: Redux? 

Julie and her husband Harry are essentially a modern day Jane Eyre/Rochester and, while not an original setup, it’s still interesting to discover Harry’s dark secret life unfolding through his innocent wife’s eyes. 

Spain is a good storyteller too, slowly parcelling out answers to the questions surrounding the central mystery - how do the characters know each other, what’s the motive, what was whispered, and so on - to keep you turning the pages at a steady clip to find out. It’s not a predictable story as she kept me guessing til the end and I was genuinely curious to know the answers to it all even if what’s revealed is somewhat underwhelming. 

The Confession is a flawed novel. It’s basically an unpleasant story about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other which becomes a bit much at times, as well as making it difficult to care about or root for anyone in particular. For that alone I couldn’t say I always enjoyed reading it. However the characters and their voices are convincingly realistic which is an argument in itself against “likeability” for the author’s high level of skill. 

Ultimately I still found it overlong with large parts of the story being irrelevant, particularly with regards Moody’s character. Despite the grim subject matter, The Confession is a light and accessible easy read with just enough going on to hold the attention - a sufficiently readable, if unimpressive, airplane book and nothing more.

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