House of Correction by Nicci French is the latest standalone by the married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. It’s an interesting book. I initially engaged with our lead Tabitha though was a little baffled by her naiveté about her predicament (ie. in jail on remand but assuming ‘the truth will set her free’). Then we see a side of her that had me realising she was perhaps not entirely a nice person. And – though I can cope with unreliable or unlikeable narrators if they’re psychopaths or sociopaths, I wasn’t sure I’d cope with one who was just a bitch.House of Correction
by Nicci French
Published by Simon & Schuster UK
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Crime Fiction, Legal Procedural
Tabitha is accused of murder. She is in prison awaiting trial.
There is a strong case against her, and she can’t remember what happened on December 21st.
She is alone, frightened and confused.
But somehow, from the confines of her cell, she needs to prove everyone wrong.
This book opens with a chapter titled ‘Inside’ so I assumed it might unfold in both the present and past. But almost all of the book actually takes place in prison. Tabitha’s on remand, charged with murder when we meet her. She’s just arrived and annoyingly ingénue-like for a 30 year old woman. I mean, she talks about being an avid reader, so even if she’s not seen television shows about innocent people being railroaded into guilty-pleas or the fact that almost everyone in jail swears they’re innocent whether they are or not, she is surprisingly naive. Or stupid.
Added to that, she (consciously) lies to everyone claiming (her mental health and previous relationship with the victim) are irrelevant so believes she has no need to tell the police or her solicitor these things. WTAF?!
The book unfolds from Tabitha’s point of view (in present tense third person) so we’re privy to her thoughts and her own fears about herself and her actions. Her memories of the day in question are vague (which was weird in itself and I wondered if this was usual for her).
There’s a whole, “Someone’s coming to save me” vibe about her and it was interesting that a former boyfriend comes to visit and comments on the fact that it’s unlike her not to take control over her own life.
Of course she soon does when she sacks her solicitor (who believes she’s guilty) and decides to represent herself. The story picks up here for me as the narrative moves to a legal procedural of sorts, with the focus on reviewing evidence, the events on the day of the murder as well as the background of potential suspects.
Although I also appreciated the re-visiting of the murder via Tabitha’s casework (such as it is) and the trial itself, there were a couple of elements I felt to be a little underdone.
Tabitha is really (mostly) quite unlikeable. She tells us herself she’s had a troubled past and there have been violent incidents and suicide attempts, but it’s only supposedly while in prison she realises the impact being abused in her teens, had on her. I pondered on whether someone could be that self-unaware and kept waiting on some ‘reveal’ of other events in her past that might have contributed to her mental health and anger issues. (And I’m definitely not saying what happened to her wasn’t traumatic… it was more that she didn’t seem disconcerted by it years later.)
And finally there were a couple of characters introduced by the authors (I’d assumed to play some role) who then disappear.
This however is an enjoyable read and I appreciated the level of detail about prison life included in this book, which I found fascinating though I realise of course my impression is tainted by television shows with a focus on entertainment rather than realism. Finally I must mention Tabitha’s former cellmate and in-court assistant Michaela – a real surprise who I’d certainly love to meet again.
House of Correction by Nicci French will be published in Australia by Simon & Schuster on 2 September 2020.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.