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Monday, 9 March 2015

Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinéad Crowley

Published by Quercus,
22 January 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-84866-786-0 (PB)

The internet is a wonderful thing.

It’s also a very dangerous thing, because it’s open to abuse. Whatever precautions we take, putting information about ourselves online makes us vulnerable.

Sinéad Crowley’s first novel could be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the perils of getting involved in chatrooms, but it certainly doesn’t preach to its readers. Instead it tells a gripping, scary story, peopled by characters many women can recognize and identify with.

The weeks leading up to and following the birth of a baby can be fraught and challenging, as hormones and lack of sleep make a mountainous learning curve even steeper. Crowley has clearly been there, and possibly even drew comfort from a companionable chatroom filled with others in a similar situation. Then, like all the best writers, she has taken this experience and asked the big question: What if...? 

In this case, the what if...? comes down to murder. One of the chatroom members goes missing, a body is discovered, and the protagonist, a new mum in a new city, isolated from her friends and extended family, puts two and two together. The police – actually the Garda, since this is Dublin – ignore her, until Detective Sergeant Claire Boyle, six months pregnant herself, begins to wonder.

The novel is a prime example of the sub-genre they’re calling ‘domestic noir’: a background of ordinary family life, the tangled threads that lie under the surface of many women’s everyday existences, the seething maelstrom of emotions that result. Crowley is a journalist, and trained to observe; she has done so, meticulously, and the background is full of rich, telling detail.

The plot is a twisted thread of frustrations, missed opportunities and flashes of inspiration on the part of the characters. Crowley saves a final crimp for the denouement, having misdirected the reader skilfully towards the wrong perpetrator.

The best thing about the book is the characters. I felt for feisty Claire, determined not to let pregnancy hinder her work, and desperate Yvonne, alone in a strange city. I wanted to slap distant Hannah, the mother-in-law with hidden depths, and prep-school-boy Flynn, the fast-track detective who becomes Claire’s reluctant accomplice as she bends the rules. I was exasperated by Gerry, Yvonne’s charming but demanding TV producer husband.

Many journalists have ambitions to write fiction; not all of them succeed this well. Sinéad Crowley is one to watch.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Sinéad Crowley is a journalist and currently work as Arts and Media correspondent with RTE, Ireland's national broadcaster. Whilst enjoying her job Sinéad set herself the challenge of finishing a novel before she turned 40. It wasn't, she says  ‘a quick process’, She started it while on maternity leave with her  first child and got a publishing deal just after his fourth birthday! But she was still 39 when it happened.  That book, Can Anybody Help Me is a psychological thriller which draws on her experiences as a mother and internet user and tells the story of a young woman who becomes dependent on a parenting website after her first child is born. Online, can you always know who your friends are? It was a top five bestseller in Ireland and shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2014, and it's out now in ebook, trade paperback and paperback. The sequel, which also features Detective Claire Boyle will be out late 2015.

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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