The premise of the latest psychological thriller by Sophie Hannah – a prolific author of crime novels, poetry and children’s fiction – is an instantly intriguing one.
The Carrier opens with a cryptic letter, marked as police evidence, taunting the addressee Francine with news of her impending murder.
Immediately, we are then introduced to Gabby Struthers, a worldly, eloquent woman, who finds herself forced to share a hotel room with an attention-seeking hysterical stranger, Lauren Cookson.
Lauren is ranting – she has, she says, let an innocent man go to prison for a murder he didn’t commit. It’s soon clear that her rants are of more interest to Gabby than Gabby might first have thought: the man in question is one Tim Breary, who Gabby has always loved – but only ever from afar.
Tim has confessed to the murder of his vegetative wife, Francine, who in the period before her death was utterly unable to move or speak.
Tim’s confession is backed up by his two best friends, Kerry and Dan, as well as by Lauren, Francine’s caretaker, and her thuggish partner.
The five of them appear to have a slippery grasp on the truth - and are clearly hiding something. The only crack in their story is Tim’s inability to come up with a motive for the crime he has confessed to committing: he just can’t say why he did it.
...right up until the last moment, you are never quite sure you know who is to blameThe Carrier asks a lot of its readers upfront. Hannah’s language is fluid, varied in tempo and format, and peppered with poetry, with the thread of an intricate and complex narrative woven throughout.
This is a book that requires concentration, while also being delightfully addictive: the kind of novel that you’ll keep on reading even while bumping into things as you walk down the street.
The character developments come so thick and fast you feel yourself firmly in the shoes of the case detectives, Simon and Charlie, learning as they go, desperate to uncover what is behind this strange murder.
A splinted and politically-motivated police culture adds to their challenges, with a brilliantly love-to-hate chief, Proust, at the head of the force.
A great secondary character, he embodies all the characteristics of a physiological bully, mirroring the wider themes of the novel in his small side story.
Thankfully, Hannah plays her cards close to her chest, so that right up until the last moment, you are never quite sure you know who is to blame. Captivating from the very first page, this is a novel that should inspire you to explore Hannah’s entire body of crime fiction.
The Carrier was published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton on 14th February and is available from Foyles, Amazon or your local independent bookshop, priced at £14.99. An e-book edition is also available, priced at £7.99.
Recommended for: Fussy crime fiction lovers who don’t like to be spoon-fed, or those with a soft spot for contemporary poetry and the exploration of language.
Other recommended reading: Get into more of Sophie Hannah’s work with Kind of Cruel, or, for another mystery that takes time to unravel, look out for Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave.