British writer Sophie Hannah’s action in “Kind of Cruel” takes place to a great extent within the minds of her characters, interpreted/aided by hypnotherapist Ginny Saxon, whose office is in a small wooden structure at the rear of her home.
No chases through busy city streets or in glitzy office buildings, but a focus on words on a slip of paper and puzzling motives of a collection of characters lead one to turn the pages.
Hannah, who will be in Denver Aug. 9, has published six previous books featuring perceptive police detective Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Charlotte “Charlie” Zailer. Simon reminds a reader of great British crime solvers such as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, who piece elements together until there is a solution to the crime(s) at hand.
She writes this book in several voices — one sometimes needs to revisit the beginning of a chapter to sort that part out — including italicized print for psychotherapist Saxon, who carries the story along. Action takes place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 10, 2010.
Hannah tried hypnosis herself to add depth to her story and sort out what the process might mean. She writes that the idea came to her in part from a Canadian fan, whose address looked like a hypnotherapy site.
The carefully crafted words come across as written by a scholarly sort — Hannah, who lives in Cambridge with her husband and children, is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College, a women’s college started at Cambridge in 1965.
We first read the phrase “Kind. Cruel. Kind of Cruel” as insomniac Amber Hewardine struggles to figure out its meaning — and its involvement in a murder she is accused of. She embarks on hypnotherapy to cure her chronic insomnia and seeks the meaning of her visual remembrance of those words, written on a school tablet. When and where did she see them?
Various characters in her extended family, including a husband and two young daughters of a murdered friend, are developed with enough depth so they have distinctive voices, and settings are pictured with enough detail to make them real, including a Cobham country house called Little Orchard, which almost becomes another character.
Numerous story threads are finally woven together in the final pages, as they should be in any satisfying thriller. The reader feels like she has returned from a brief trip.