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Wednesday 12 August 2015

‘Half the World Away’ by Cath Staincliffe

Published by Constable,
4 June 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-47211-797-7 (HB)

Cath Staincliffe has been one of crime fiction’s best kept secrets for some years: an accomplished plotter with a talent for creating the kind of characters her readers could warm to and empathize with. Now she has turned that talent to even better use, in the kind of novel which delves into effects of crime on the lives of people it touches and damages. Letters to My Daughter’s Killer was a turning point for her; Half the World Away picks up the same ball, and carries it away down the field.

The theme this time is every parent’s nightmare: the almost-grown-up child who disappears in a foreign country where even the language seems a million miles from our own. Jo Maddox’s daughter Lori has gone travelling in the far east after university, and after months of sporadic but fairly frequent contact via e-mail and a blog, she suddenly falls silent.

Jo and Tom, her ex and Lori’s father, head out to China to look for her. They battle with the language, fall foul of Foreign Office red tape and Chinese police methods and attitudes, find themselves under arrest for taking matters into their own hands, and eventually discover the truth about what has happened to their daughter – all set against a background of the domestic problems they have left behind, and the noisy, claustrophobic city Lori has made her temporary home.

There is crime, but it’s not a crime novel, except insofar as Jo and Tom unpick the clues the police are ignoring and finally pick up a trail which leads them where they need to go. Rather, it’s a psychological thriller in the sense that it explores the psychology of the whole situation, both in China and back at home.

Staincliffe has an extraordinary ability to weave the day-to-day minutiae of domestic life into her narrative in a way which adds an extra layer of depth, but never becomes mundane. The way Jo deals with her two very different little boys, the widening cracks in her second marriage, her contradictory feelings towards Tom: it all serves to make her a real, rounded human being. I even forgave (after about ten pages) the present tense narrative – a device which in the wrong hands can so often be pretentious, but which Staincliffe’s deft touch turns into a way of drawing the reader into a narrative which has immediacy, and bucketloads of emotional richness without a smidgen of sentimentality.

The ending is slightly ragged, not entirely happily-ever-after, just like real life. Which about sums up the entire novel. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Cath Staincliffe was brought up in Bradford and hoped to become an entomologist (insects) then a trapeze artist before settling on acting at the age of eight.  She graduated from Birmingham University with a Drama and Theatre Arts degree and moved to work as a community artist in Manchester where she now lives with her family. Looking for Trouble, published in 1994, launched private eye Sal, a single parent struggling to juggle work and home, onto Manchester’s mean streets.  It was short listed for the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey best first novel award, serialised on BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour and awarded Le Masque de l’Année in France.  Cath has published a further seven Sal Kilkenny mysteries. Cath is also a scriptwriter, creator of ITV’s hit police series, Blue Murder, which ran for five series from 2003 – 2009 starring Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis.  Cath writes for radio and created the Legacy drama series which features a chalk-and-cheese, brother and sister duo of heir hunters whose searches take them into the past lives of families torn apart by events.
Trio, a stand-alone novel, moved away from crime to explore adoption and growing up in the 1960s.  Cath’s own story, of tracing and being re-united with her Irish birth family and her seven brothers and sisters, featured in the television documentary Finding Cath from RTE.
Split Second, Cath’s latest novel in her stand-alone series about ethical dilemmas, explores the question of whether to intervene or not when violence erupts in a public place – and what the consequences might be. Dead To Me, a prequel to the popular Scott & Bailey TV show, sees the two women detectives thrown together for the very first time as they investigate the brutal murder of a teenage girl.
Cath is a founder member of Murder Squad, a virtual collective of northern crime writers.  She is an avid reader and likes hill-walking, messing about in the garden and dancing (with far more enthusiasm than grace).

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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