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Sunday 1 February 2015
‘A Trick of the Mind’ by Penny Hancock
Penny Hancock’s previous psychological thrillers have each been set close to the River Thames, where the seedier parts of London border on to respectable middle class residential areas.
Trick of the Mind opens in a pretty Norfolk seaside town, and but for one blot on the landscape, all is sunshine and light.
The blot is a hit-and-run accident. Ellie, the artist protagonist, is afraid that the branch she thought she collided with during her blustery drive down to the town was actually something much worse. A local news item confirms her fears, she decides to confront her ‘victim’, and from then on nothing in her life is the same.
Hancock has a great talent for creating layers. The action soon shifts to her familiar territory of riverside London; the river’s deceptively calm, smooth surface and its seething currents and trapped detritus waiting to emerge from its depths become a metaphor for Ellie’s life.
Ellie herself is talented, feisty, and a little damaged by the past. The new lifestyle she is drawn into has its attractions, and at first it’s hard for the reader to understand how a bright, independent young woman can fail to pick up the many clues which point out that she is being deceived. But denial is a way of guarding ourselves against unacceptable truths, and Ellie’s situation is only an extension of that instinct for self-protection. It’s all as plain as day to the sparky bohemian friends who have shared her life for many years, but by the time Ellie sees what’s really happening, she can’t see a way out. And that’s the truly scary thing.
Background is Hancock’s great talent; the river and seaside backgrounds are so well-drawn that you can almost smell the way the air changes from one location to the other. No less real are her characters, from Ellie herself and charismatic Patrick, who is quite definitely not what he seems, through Ellie’s idiosyncratic family and friends, right down to six-year-old Timothy and Larry, the child in a fifty-year-old body. Even May, the dead aunt whose seaside house Ellie has inherited, and Pepper the dog are sharp and clear.
If there’s one flaw, it’s this: a struggling artist who has just earned her first commission surviving in London on the salary of a part-time teacher requires disbelief to be suspended just a little too far. But I suspended it far enough to avoid being distracted from the book’s many qualities.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Penny Hancock. After several years in London, Penny Hancock now lives in Cambridge with her husband and three children. She is a part-time primary school teacher at a speech and language school and has travelled extensively as a language teacher.
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.