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Thursday, 13 November 2014

‘The Edge of Normal’ by Carla Norton

Published by Macmillan,
10 October 2013. 
ISBN: 978-1-4472-3803-4

Journalists and researchers don’t always make the best novelists – but Carla Norton has made a transition from one to the other which has to qualify as one of the most successful I’ve encountered.
As a journalist she covered a high-profile case of abduction and abuse; as a researcher she became an authority on the aftermath of this heinous crime, and how its victims move on. And as a novelist, she not only turns her knowledge into fiction, but produces a beautifully crafted psychological thriller which I simply didn’t want to put down – and what’s more, one which is so well written that I hardly even noticed it’s written in the present tense, a quasi-literary conceit which I usually find an irritating distraction.

The protagonist, Reeve, is in her twenties, and still piecing her life back together after four years of captivity in the hands of a sadistic abuser. Her therapist asks her to help a teenage girl who has recently been rescued from a similar ordeal, and when she reluctantly agrees, she has no idea what a hornets’ nest she is stepping into.

The thriller element involves a clever psychopathic paedophile with a unique modus operandi, and the plot is tensely played out and well paced – but the novel’s real quality lies in the insight it offers into the nature of the damage this kind of crime can inflict, both directly, and as a result of clumsy, thoughtless investigation techniques on the part of law enforcement agencies and inconsiderate interest from the media.

Norton wears her research lightly; everything is shown through the medium of the characters, all finely drawn: still-fragile but gutsy Reeve herself; the many and various faces of policing; the equally diverse villains; the victims and their families; and the therapist who manages to combine sympathy with genuine help.

It isn’t always a comfortable read, especially for anyone who has ever been the parent of a teenage girl. The main antagonist is both cunning and ingenious, and there’s a strong sense of there but for the grace... throughout the narrative. Which, of course, is more evidence, if any were needed, that Norton not only knows her subject backwards and inside out but also has the skill to shape it into a story with the ring of reality.

My only concern is that she might turn out to be a one-trick pony. The Edge of Normal is her debut novel, and deals with subject matter which is clearly so close to her heart that it’s hard to see how she could cap it. And that would be a pity.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Carla Norton is something of a nomad that but the short answer is Northern California with Redding her hometown, plus years spent in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the long answer includes New York, Tokyo, LA, Virginia, Seattle, and Florida. She got her BA at Raymond College, a small, liberal arts college that was once (but is sadly no more) part of the University of the Pacific.
She was working as an associate editor with the Japanese edition of Reader’s Digest when an incredible story hit headlines: A woman claimed she’d been held as a sex slave—most of the time in a box—for seven years. The story was so compelling that she returned to California and wedged herself between reporters and sketch artists to cover the kidnapper’s trial. She later wrote Perfect Victim in collaboration with the prosecutor. Over the years, she has published articles in newspapers and magazines. She worked at the San Jose Mercury News, editing special sections. And once edited the autobiography of a former Soviet Spy. In 2007, she took a graduate program at Goddard College, and earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. The protagonist of my debut novel is scarred, flawed, and suffers from a hot sense of justice. I hope she captures your imagination.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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