Saturday, 5 April 2008

Out of a Clear Sky

I’ve recently finished reading an advance proof of Out of a Clear Sky by a new writer, Sally Hinchcliffe. It focuses on the world of bird-watchers. Manda, the narrator, has recently split up with her boyfriend Gareth, and finds solace in the hobby (more of an obsession, actually) that the two of them shared. Tom, a friend, is interested in her, and so – rather less pleasingly – is a rather creepy individual called David. Manda finds herself menaced by a sinister enemy, and as the pressure on her mounts towards a fatal conclusion (foreshadowed in part by the first chapter), secrets from her own past become increasingly oppressive.

This is a well-written book by a novelist of genuine promise. My guess is that we will hear a great deal more of Sally Hinchcliffe. Where her inexperience as a crime writer shows, perhaps, is in the balance between the incidents of the story and the background of the bird-watchers’ world. There are many, many pages about birds, and although the material is fascinating, at times (for me, at least) it overwhelmed the story. It did make the book ‘different’, and that is a real strength, but the plot twists were generally rather predictable.

The publishers claim that Hinchcliffe ‘will be a star of the future’. On this evidence, I’d say there is a good chance of their being right. Where I part company with the blurb is in the comparison with Nicci French and Barbara Vine. French and Vine both excel at plot, as well as characterisation and description, and that is the secret of their enormous success. The comparison doesn’t do Hinchcliffe any favours. She’s talented enough to be judged on her own merits, which are distinctive and considerable.

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