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Wednesday 3 January 2018

‘White Bodies’ by Jane Robins

Published by HQ,
28 December 2017.  
ISBN: 978-0-00-821754-9 (HB)

Fiction, like every other leisure activity, is subject to trends and fashions, and at the moment, following a long overdue change in legislation and attitudes, one which is ripe for attention is men who use devious means to control the women they profess to love. White Bodies isn't the first psychological thriller I've read on that theme, and I doubt it will be the last. The challenge for the author, of course, is to offer a new twist on what has rapidly become a familiar message.

It begins with a funeral – not, as you might expect, of the abused wife, but of the controlling husband. That's not a spoiler; it's right there in the first chapter, described, as is the entire story, from the point of view of the wife's sister. And that viewpoint is the first indication that Jane Robins has a sure hand on the tiller: Callie, the narrating sister, comes across as just as sharp and rounded a character as Tilda, the histrionic abused wife, and Felix, the charming abuser. Turning a first-person narrator into a real, scratch-me-and-I-bleed person is hard to pull off, and she does it.

The same applies to all the characters; even the most minor players have extra layers and dimensions. I felt I would know them if I met them, not just visually but in terms of personality as well. I especially enjoyed Daphne, the owner of the bookshop where Callie works, and Wilf, the estate agent turned gardener who brings some much-needed sanity into her life. I wanted to hug Callie, drag Tilda to safety, grin at Wilf, visit the bookshop, slap selfish Charlotte (read it and see), or simply hang out with some of the others. and as for Felix... Best not to ask.

Locations are equally well depicted; it's easy to visualize Tilda's sophisticated flat in both its incarnations, the rough and ready pub which serves cheese and Marmite sandwiches on the lunch menu, and the wasteland Wilf is turning into a garden. The plot twists and turns along with a nod, duly acknowledged, to the classic thriller Strangers on a Train. Then, just when you think you know exactly where it's going and prepare yourself for the mild disappointment of not being surprised by the ending... I'll say no more, except you won't see it coming; I certainly didn't.

Jane Robins was already an experienced writer of non-fiction before embarking on this, her first novel, and she shows herself to be equally accomplished in her new chosen genre.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jane Robins began her career as a journalist with The Economist, The Independent, and the BBC. She has made a specialty of writing historical true crime and has a particular interest in the history of forensics. She has published three books of nonfiction in the UK, Rebel Queen, The Magnificent Spilsbury, and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams. More recently, she has been a Fellow at the Royal Literary Fund.

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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