The Telling Error By Sophie Hannah - book review


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The Independent Culture

Ever been driven to fury by a media commentator, be they strident columnist, outspoken radio shock-jock, or TV pundit spouting forth? If so then Damon Blundy’s death at his desk is a moment to savour. Sophie Hannah’s victim in her latest Spilling CID series is an opinionated newspaper writer found bound and gagged at his computer at home. A knife has been taped over his mouth fatally sealing it for ever and the message “HE IS NO LESS DEAD” daubed across the wall. After Blundy’s body is found by his wife, as she takes him a cup of tea, it quickly becomes a job for Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse and his colleagues.

Waterhouse is a curious creation. Cerebrally, he is part Morse, part Raymond Babbitt, the autistic savant memorably played by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. Unlike Morse, Waterstone comes with a fully formed domestic life – his wife, Sergeant Charlie Zailer. Waterhouse must swat his way through a swarm of potential suspects, starting with Blundy’s wife, who insists that she was two floors below when her husband was murdered but didn’t hear a thing because she had the radio turned up loud. Intriguingly she also believes the murder is linked to the fact that her husband never really loved her yet behaved as the exemplary doting lover and partner.

Then there are the people Blundy has insulted publicly in his column – a drug-cheat athlete, a rival pundit he publicly excoriated for hypocrisy, and an award-winning author whose creative instincts are self-admittedly stimulated by smoking copious amounts of cannabis. Finally, there is Nicki Clements, a married mother of two, whose self-respect is so slight that she will lie as readily and easily as she fills her lungs with oxygen. Clements, a wonderfully-realised character, is the flywheel for this precisely plotted drama. Her nervous energy, her obvious lies, and the gradual revealing of her personal story provide the essential guide ropes that Sophie Hannah sets out for those intrepid enough to follow in the footsteps and handholds of her imagination.

It is part crime fiction – there’s been a murder and in DC Waterhouse Hannah has an intriguing detective setting out to solve it – and part exploration of modern relationships with their uneasy mix of truth, falsehoods, fidelity and cheating, mental and physical. More the latter than former if truth be told, which it rarely is, in Hannah’s fiction. There is an admirable, complicated cleverness about her stories which challenge readers without ever chilling them with a scary sense of the dangers abroad in the world. Think Agatha Christie at her best but updated to a time of Twitter and online dating in both its glory and ignominy.