The cover of Harriet Tyce’s debut novel, Blood Orange, is alluring and slightly confronting. I would most certainly pick it up if I saw it on a shelf and knew nothing else about the book.
It’s a novel featuring an unreliable narrator and a book that surprised me. I think was expecting more of a legal procedural, but this book is as much about Alison, the Barrister representing a woman accused of murdering her husband, as it is the defendant and the crime in question.
by Harriet Tyce
Published by Wildfire
on February 21st 2019
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction, Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1472252764, 9781472252760
Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise - she's just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems...
Just one more night. Then I'll end it.
Alison drinks too much. She's neglecting her family. And she's having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.
I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.
Alison's client doesn't deny that she stabbed her husband - she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.
I'm watching you. I know what you're doing.
But someone knows Alison's secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she's done, and who won't stop until she's lost everything....
Alison’s a mess. There’s no question about that. I don’t mind unreliable narrators or flawed characters but I did wonder how on earth she functioned as a lawyer given what she gets up to when we’re first introduced. And I was surprised her colleagues weren’t more worried about her and her work performance.
However… although I’m not a psychologist (obviously) there’s a sense she’s ‘acting out’. She’s able to control her drinking and doesn’t necessarily drink every day, so not necessarily an alcoholic (or a highly functioning one). But she’s certainly indulging in some risky behaviour.
Needless to say, we get off on the wrong foot with Alison… particularly as the opening scene results in her getting seriously trashed and having sex in her chambers before being woken there, slumped in her chair the next morning by her husband and daughter, checking on her as she didn’t arrive home the night before.
However… things change and it’s an interesting transition. Kinda subtle in many ways.
Initially we’re sympathetic towards her long-suffering husband Carl. After all, her behaviour is outrageous. (Says me being all judgey-judgey.) But then there’s a strong sense that he’s not supportive in the way we expect him to be; and his reactions are unpredictable. I’ve only recently heard of the term gaslighting, but that’s exactly what it felt like (therapist-by-trade) Carl was doing on occasions.
It makes we readers suspicious – wondering if there’s some underlying secret agenda. I wondered, for example, if he was connected to the defendant in Alison’s murder case. Or perhaps even her lover.
Which brings me to Alison’s murder case. Madeleine has confessed to murdering her husband though says she doesn’t remember doing it. She was drunk. She drinks too much on occasion, And it soon becomes obvious her husband (now dead thanks to multiple knife wounds!) was a violent and controlling bully.
Madeleine is adamant she wants to plead guilty, but Alison believes they can have her charges reduced to manslaughter and sentence reduced given her husband’s behaviour.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Alison’s story takes over the narrative here. I thought her life might be mirroring the case she’s defending and I guess she does see similarities, which is probably a tad confronting.
I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to – as it wasn’t really on my radar, despite the alluring cover and quotes from authors I admire like Clare Mackintosh and Lisa Jewell.
The plot is really strong and the characters are all complex; Alison shouldn’t be likeable, but she is. She knows her behaviour is out-of-control and determined to change things but keeps repeating the same mistakes. Again and again.
Madeleine, the woman accused of murder, starts off as unsympathetic, but that changes as we learn more about her.
And Carl – dedicated father and seemingly loving husband – is unpredictable. He’s sympathetic at times (perhaps more forgiving than he should be) but undermines Alison incredibly at others. Alison often mentions he was made redundant in a previous career and retrained as a therapist, so the chip on his shoulder may be understandable. (As an aside, he runs a group of sex-addicts from their house which seemed waaaaay inappropriate.)
This debut novel is a good length. It’s well-paced and far from predictable. I really did not see the end coming and though it was a tad left-field, it was satisfying nonetheless
Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.