reviews

REVIEW: He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

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Released April 20th with Hodder and Stoughton, available here.

I’ve seen Erin Kelly speak at a couple of events – firstly at a Valentine’s Day killer women talk earlier this year and then again at one of Goldsboro Books’s Monday crime nights (speaking of: I went to another one on Monday night with Jane Casey, Chris Brookmyre, Michelle Adams and Mark Hill, and it was excellent but I was tired and a bit squashed so I was a big flop and did not take notes). My point here is that she’s fantastic and I have been looking forward to reading this book since February.

It follows the story of Kit and Laura. Kit is an eclipse chaser and has drawn his wife Laura into that life too. The book moves between their life together in the present day – Laura is pregnant with much longed for twins, while Kit is off chasing an eclipse – and their past, which starts in 1999 when they go to a festival in Cornwall to watch an eclipse and Laura interrupts a rape that’s taking place. The repercussions of that day affect pretty much their entire life together.

So, that’s the premise, and it’s so much better than I’ve made it sound. I think that what makes this book work so well for me was the sheer quality of Kelly’s writing. Since reading He Said/She Said on Sunday, I’ve also read her novel The Burning Air, which absolutely hooked me even though I would argue that the plot isn’t quite as fantastic as He Said/She Said. The reason for that is that her character creation is so great. There’s something really incredible about the way that she seems to let us fully inside her characters and keeps things hidden at the same time. Doing that with such ease is really skilful. Both these books had huge twists that genuinely stunned me and made me flip back through the book to reread the parts leading up to them.

Kelly is clearly an absolute master at writing a novel with a twist. I think twists can sometimes be overrated – they feel cheap or they’re not that interesting or you feel as though they’ve been shoved in there to make you gasp and tell everyone about the twist in your novel. But these ones made total, total sense in retrospect – and I think the novels could definitely be reread and seen through fresh eyes with this new perspective, especially as they were such page-turners that made me read extremely quickly and probably, tbh, miss a few clues.

There’s something else that I really like about these books and I’m not completely sure how to phrase it without being spoilery and awful. Basically, in both of these novels, for a while things go in the direction of Women Being Awful Because They’re Crazy. And that is a plotline that is obviously more than a little tired and that has been done a thousand times before – and I’m really glad that it was steered away from in both of these books. I felt as though they were written in a really clear-eyed and intelligent way, and none of the humanity of the characters was sacrificed for the sake of the plot. Both of the endings of these books were incredibly satisfying, particularly He Said/She Said. Sometimes books have fantastic premises but as you read through them, part of you is saying ‘No. No, that isn’t how this should be done. No. Oh God’, but with these books it felt as though the story was formed and the endings were the only way they could have been resolved – despite me not guessing at all what was going to happen.

Back to the point of this review/ramble, which is He Said/She Said: I think it may be my favourite thriller that I’ve read so far this year, and I don’t know how it’s going to be topped. I loved that the characters were shits but recognisably human, I loved how deeply satisfying it was, I loved the relationship between Kit and Laura and of course the relationship between Beth and the pair of them. I love that Erin Kelly writes in shades of grey in which women are allowed to be unapologetically human. I’m looking forward to reading all her books – The Poison Tree is next, and frankly I can’t wait.

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