Today it is my great pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald. This book had me laughing from start to finish, for all the right (and wrong) reasons. A big thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the tour and to publisher Orenda Books for the advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is about.
About the Book
Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Google Play | iBooks
Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.
A heart-pounding, relentless and chilling psychological thriller, rich with deliciously dark and unapologetic humour, Worst Case Scenario is also a perceptive, tragic and hugely relevant book by one of the most exciting names in crime fiction.
Oh my life. How can something so very, very wrong be so absolutely right?
Well … read Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald and you will start to get some idea of exactly what I mean. This book … It had me laughing from the very first chapter whilst inwardly cringing at some of the situations which occur and the position that our protagonist, Mary Shields, finds herself in.
And what a character Mary is. A long term Criminal Justice Social Worker, or Probation Officer as she’d be known south of the border, battling both bureaucracy and menopause, Mary is all manner of wrong. Politically, socially and emotionally incorrect, her time working with offenders and the powers that be have left her cynical, jaded and desperately counting down the days to her retirement. And with her partner on the verge of hitting the big time, it looks like that wish of retirement is about to come true, leaving Mary with a devil may care and gung-ho attitude towards everything.
I loved Mary as a character. Lord knows on a personal level she is not remotely likeable – acerbic, abrupt, hard as nails – but she still brought a huge smile to my face. Her hilarious but oh so astute observations of her working environment just made me howl, and I’m sure the early comments on working time will resonate with anyone who has ever worked in a job where lunch breaks are aspirational and flexi time is perfect in theory but hard to put into practice. She gets her personal pleasures in ways which are wholly inappropriate, almost skin crawling, and yet undeniably funny, making you laugh even though you know you absolutely shouldn’t. But there is another side to her character, and as certain events unfurl you get to see it, albeit briefly. A kind of emotional turmoil which even her keen sense of humour cannot protect her from.
Now there is a serious element to this book. This is, after all, also about Mary’s ‘clients’ – sex offenders and abusers – who will make you uncomfortable and quite possibly sicken you a little as you read. Anger you at the very least. Helen Fitzgerald has captured their character traits and quirks perfectly, and people such as Jimmy McKinley will make your skin crawl, reminding you of the true nature of the job Mary does and the reason why her black humour is absolutely necessary in order to cope. The author does not make light of the seriousness of the crimes committed by some of the characters, nor the physical and mental toll of events upon those at the heart of the action, walking a very fine line when creating this on the page. But she has done a brilliant job of balancing the gravity of the backstory against the dark humour of Mary and her co workers.
This book could be described as a comedy of errors almost. For all the good that Mary attempts to do, however well-meaning her actions may have been, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, sometimes with shocking impact, other times with almost inevitable and yet still comedic effect. There is much to be said for playing it straight, perhaps a lesson that might have served Mary well and certainly changed the course of what happened throughout the book. But there would be little fun for the reader in that now would there?
I especially liked the way in which Mary’s various relationships were explored in this book. From the way in which she interacted with her family, the strain which develops between her and her son and her partner, to the strange kind of chemistry which quickly formed between her and Liam MacDowell, the author has created an elaborate tangle which threatens to eat up Mary’s life. And all of it is beautifully narrated, sharing Mary’s thoughts and reactions as each bond takes an almighty battering. I think it was the back and forth between Mary and Liam which hooked me the most, making the conclusion of their – what should I call it? friendship? – all the more shocking. It’s fair to say there was more than a little obsession over Liam’s past crimes on Mary’s part, but was she as savvy a judge of character as she thought she was?
It’s so hard to talk about this book in detail without giving key bits of the story away, or really being able to explain why I absolutely bloody loved it. Was it the simple touches, the completely inappropriate nature of the humour such as the very odd and very creepy doll which Jimmy McKinley kept in his home? Perhaps it was the way that all of Mary’s best intentions and her actions – completely ill-advised as they were – just seemed to jump up and bite her in the backside? Maybe it was the way in which the writing was just so fluid, so witty and well observed, a spot on portrayal of life in public service, with an outrageously politically incorrect character that says, does and acts out all the things we aren’t allowed to do ourselves, not without fear of a lynching at least. All I know is that I bombed through the book in no time and was recommending it to anyone who would listen before I even read past chapter two. I know that this book had me hooked.
Dark, uncompromisingly funny, tense, littered with moments of emotional stillness and acutely observed narrative, this is a book I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. For all the right, and sometimes very wrong reasons, it’s also a book I’m awarding my red-hot read badge to. Go buy it. You know it makes sense.
About the Author
Helen FitzGerald is the bestselling author of ten adult and young adult thrillers, including The Donor (2011) and The Cry (2013), which was longlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and is now a major drama for BBC1. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia. She now lives in Glasgow with her husband.
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