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Friday, 24 July 2015

‘After the Storm’ by Jane Lythell

Published by Head of Zeus,
25 June 2015.
ISBN: 9781781855348 (PB)

Handing over most of your holiday money and heading out to sea on a ramshackle sailing boat with people you’ve only known for half a day doesn’t sound like the most sensible course of action, but then crime fiction quite often relies on an element of the far-fetched. It’s how After the Storm, Jane Lythell’s second novel, begins, and the problem-laden voyage which ensues takes up almost the first half of the book.

Unusually, there are four protagonists, all distinct, well-drawn and interesting, who each get equal weight; no one character is obviously innocent of all wrongdoing and meant to gain the reader’s sympathy. The narrative veers around from one viewpoint to another, sometimes disconcertingly, and it’s soon clear that there are secrets which will inevitably come out.

The four characters come in two couples. Rob and Anna are on an extended holiday in central America, young and enthusiastic about travelling and keen to extend their experience. He is running away from, or at least avoiding, something, and a bit of a risk-taker; she is more cautious, and wants to appear braver than she is. Owen and Kim are older, and live hand-to-mouth by hiring out their boat. There is something in his past which he wants to keep under wraps, and which threatens to unbalance him from time to time; she is growing tired of their itinerant lifestyle, and wants to settle down.

There is certainly a crime component: eventually a vicious murder closely followed by a near-fatal assault. But the main feature of the narrative is the uneasy relationship which grows up between the two couples, and the revelation and resolution of those secrets, via a series of near-disasters during the voyage, an undercurrent of sexual attraction between the wrong halves of each couple, and a drug-running strand which never quite arrives at a satisfactory conclusion.

It’s a novel with potential; there are several more interesting characters in addition to the four protagonists, and a powerful sense of place acts as a vivid backdrop to the unfolding story. But it’s a pity that the writing is often stilted and naïve, and story strands are sometimes disjointed, and fizzle away rather than reaching a satisfying resolution.

Perhaps the author never intended it to be a crime novel. It would be interesting to see what happened if she set out to write one.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jane Lythell was born in Norfolk. She went to university in North London and stayed on for thirty years becoming a season ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur along the way. Jane started to write full time in May 2011 after years of working in film and television, including two stints at the British Film Institute. She co-wrote a biography of Doris Day for the BFI and published her highly acclaimed debut novel The Lie of You in 2004.Jane now lives in Brighton with her family, but gets to London for all the Spurs home games, which is a source of frequent despair and occasional joy.

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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