Review: The Confession by Jo Spain

IMG_6974[1]I’ve been on a bit of a binge this month when it comes to dark, suspense filled books, especially where crime is concerned. All of this is of course a necessary result of the arrival of Halloween and autumn. Yet, whilst I’ve enjoyed many of these books, there’s been once such category which has still left me craving more; psychological thrillers and dramas. I enjoy nothing more than a twisted tale which really examines the mindset and triggers which can lead to someone committing dreadful acts. The more character driven it is, the better, but sadly I find a fast plot often overshadows something as crucial as this. I recently read Without a Word  by Kate McQuaile, a book which I personally felt suffered from this . As such, I’ve been on the hunt for something a bit more awe-inspiring.

To go back to the topic of crime, I recently read the latest installment of Jo Spain’s Inspector Tom Reynolds series, Sleeping Beauties. I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite never having read the previous two books in the series. Yet there was more to come; at the end of Sleeping Beauties I was given an insight into another new book by Jo Spain, The Confession.  From this tiny little extract I was immediately hooked, caught up in the violence and intrigue which this first chapter produced. When I recount the main crux of the novel, I think you will understand why:

Late one night a man enters the lavish home of Harry McNamara, where he launches a frenzied, brutal attack on the successful banker with the crude instrument of a golf club. His wife watches on in silence, too horror stricken to do anything other than observe the blows rain down, her husband’s face distorted beyond recognition. That same night JP Carney hands himself in to the police, confessing to beating a man to death. He claims the attack was not premeditated, that he does not even know the financial celebrity that is Harry McNamara. With a man as ruthless in his business as Harry has been, it’s hard for the police to believe such an event could be down to sheer ill luck and bad timing. Was this truly a random act of monumental violence, or is this another link to the sinful past which Harry has left in his wake?

What really caught my attention so fiercely with clawed hands was the sheer brutality and vivid imagery of the opening chapters. Most writers dealing with a suspenseful plot try to produce a shocking opening which draws the reader in, and my God did Jo Spain deliver. The very first sentence of the book reads ‘it’s the first spray of my husband’s blood hitting the television screen that will haunt me in weeks to come . . . that, and the sound of his skull cracking . . .’ (p. 1). We’re not eased in, or left to acclimatise, but hit immediately with a full force blow which parallels the trauma inflicted by the attacker himself. The author carefully evokes our senses, allowing us to see in all its gory detail the horrors which Harry’s wife, Julie, is viewing.

Julie herself gives quite a detached almost clinical account of the attack as it happens, a technique which works because of the way in which is mimics the state of shock anyone would enter into. Through Julie we experience each blow after blow from the golf club, an onslaught whose rapid arrival is matched only by its intensity. It an ugly, visceral opening made all the more memorable for its realism. Julie is so paralysed by fear she even lose control of her bladder, an involuntary action fuelled by such disturbing sights.

From this startling opening the story splits, dividing into three different narrative structures as the characters deal with the aftermath. We have both the first person perspectives of Julie and Carney, the attacker, as well as an interspersed third person narrative following the detectives working to make sense of the case. Sometimes such multiple perspectives can feel fractured or detached, but this was most certainly not the case here. Whilst it allowed the book to maintain a fast pace, I also felt massively connected to the central characters. I think this had a lot to do with the author’s clever decision to spend a lot of the time actually in the past, with the characters of Julie and Carney often reflecting upon what has brought them to this point. It was because of this that the novel never felt as if it was jumping ahead too rapidly, providing the novel with excellent character development which helped to work as somewhat of a tease in keeping the main plot active.

In fact, the only parts of the book which are focused solely on the linear narrative are those of the detective. Even so, I think this was still very skillful of Spain. By keeping us in a fixed time frame and keeping the detectives part in the more impersonal third person, the detectives almost became an extension of us as readers. Like the detectives, we are the characters attempting to piece together this crime, acting as mediators between the two more personal narratives to gain as much information as possible. I also liked that although this book has a police presence, it was in no way what I would class a police procedural. This is helped by the distance created by the narrative technique aforementioned, making the novel seem more focused on human nature itself. This is after all a crime inversion; we know who the attacker is, and so this is not a ‘who done it’, but a ‘why they did it’, much in the same way of Burnet’s His Bloody Project.

In many ways this was one of the things I loved most about this book. Whilst the crime does play a part in the plot, it is much more of a study of human nature and the depths people can be driven to. Whilst this terrible event has happened, the novel is not limited by it. Many other books label themselves as psychological thrillers, but the characters and actual psychology quite often comes secondary to a fast paced plot. Here, however, the characters are really give room to develop. We see the various stages of the characters lives, from key moments in their past which influence later life, to the present decisions they are making.  Whilst I did think some of the moments from Harry and Julie’s relationships felt a bit clichéd, specifically with how the romantic relationship was portrayed, I still felt involved in their lives and desperate to know why this event had happened. This is all helped, of course, by the careful foreshadowing the author places in her work, drawing the reader on with a rising sense of impending trouble.

One of the things which I think makes the characters so much more engaging is the very fact that they aren’t always likeable. Whilst there were many times where I felt sympathy or empathy, there were equally as many times where I have deplored the characters actions and truly disliked them for what they have done or thought. The characters are flawed, quite often in their selfishness and disregard for others, and whilst this certainly makes them more problematic as individuals, it equally makes them so much more realistic and human. Additionally, even whilst some of the characters are questionable, I still found myself at times becoming somewhat attached to them.

What may surprise some of the people reading this book is the way in which capital and finance are quite key elements within the story. One of the ways this manifests itself is most obviously through Harry, who describes himself as a ‘banker’, and thus resides in a financial profession. What made this more interesting though was the way in which Jo Spain looks at the ‘Celtic Tiger’, a term referring to the Irish economy during the 1990’s to the 2000’s. Whilst the country initially had a rapid economy growth, it was soon followed by an economic crash. This was something I have never learn about, or I suppose been given any sort of accessibility to. Learning about it proved to not only be interesting and informative, but also gave a fantastic backdrop to the history of the characters. The Celtic Tiger obviously had a massive socio-economic impact, and directly affected the ways our characters lives developed. The outcome for someone like Harry, a man who already understood the rules of the game, would be vastly different to those from a lower social class, the people who had only just gotten use to living in a wealthier climate with a greater disposable income. The use of details liked gave more dimensions to the novel and strengthened the personalities of the characters.

With this now being my second novel by Jo Spain, I have realised one of the major aspects of her work which keeps me wanting to read more; she has an excellent command of speech. Her dialogue never feels stilted or unnatural, and it is almost as if you can forget that an author is even orchestrating the entire thing. As many of you will know, forced dialogue is one of my biggest pet hates, so it was really enjoyable to be able to trust so completely in her work. I also greatly appreciated the fact that the novel wasn’t entirely predictable or clichéd. As already mentioned, the novel starts in quite a unique way, and the rest of the novel continues this idea of originality. I was about half way into the book and I still wasn’t sure which direction the author was going to take the plot in and what was going to be revealed. I had ideas and things had been suggested, but nothing concrete enough to spoil my reading. In fact, most of the plot twists within this kept me enthralled and in suspense, which is what I always want from a good crime or psychological book.

Even the ending of the book was executed with great care. It’s left to the end of the book to fully reveal what is really going on, but it never once felt like a purposefully made grand reveal moment. It felt organic and natural, and not as if we were rushed into this anti-climatic moment. The book as a whole is brilliantly paced, allowing us to gather a greater picture as time goes on but still keeping us somewhat enveloped in the shadows.

This book really took me by surprise and made for a fantastically enjoyable read. If you’re looking for a good psychological drama or crime book which isn’t completely full of tropes, predictable plots twists and two dimensional characters, I highly recommend this. It is a cleverly executed novel with an all consuming plot which works in harmony with the ugly truth of human nature.  A few days have passed since I’ve finished the book and I can’t help but still feel involved in the story and am eagerly hoping for a possible film adaptation! Sadly, I do now have somewhat of a book hangover and have to try to find something else to occupy my mind!

Publisher: Quercus

Rating: 4*/5*

Disclaimer: I was very kindly send this book in exchange for a review. I will only ever post my own honest opinions and will NOT write a favourable review in exchange for a complimentary book.


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