Sophie Hannah is one of the most interesting British novelists of psychological suspense to have emerged in recent years. Perhaps the most interesting. She admires (as I do) the work of Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, and you can see their indirect influence in her novels – the delineation of character is sharp, and the plots are complex and compelling.
I enjoyed Little Face, her debut, but I found Hurting Distance, which sees the return of DS Charlie Zailer, to be even better. Unusually for a crime novel, the central crime is rape rather than murder, and I thought Hannah treated a very difficult subject very well.
The set-up is characteristically intriguing. Naomi has been conducting a passionate affair with a married man, but when he suddenly disappears, his wife denies that anything has happened to him. Naomi goes to the police, but only Charlie treats the investigation seriously. The truth emerges gradually, with a dazzling series of twists and turns. Christie could never have written such a book, but I feel she would have admired the author’s craftsmanship.
Hannah is clearly aware that her story appears to depend upon a string of coincidences and, cleverly, she tackles that issue head on in the narrative. I wasn’t quite convinced, though – the plot development that sees Charlie and her sister change holiday destination from Spain to a British location struck me as highly unlikely; so unlikely that it caused me to guess the outcome. But this is, I promise, a minor quibble, for Hurting Distance is, by and large, a quite superb piece of work. Charlie Zailer is sexy, intelligent, and vulnerable. She has quickly become one of my favourite detectives, and Hannah's characterisation generally is very good indeed. Strongly recommended.