Today I’m delighted to reshare my thoughts on the latest novel from Sarah Hilary, Fragile. Sarah is one of the featured authors on December’s First Monday Crime panel which takes place this coming Monday, 6th December. Sarah will be joined by Emma Haughton (The Dark), Alexandra Benedict (The Christmas Murder Game) and Martin Walker (Bruno’s Challenge & Other Dordogne Tales) and you can join all the fun from 7.30pm, over on the First Monday Crime Facebook Page.
To whet your appetite, here’s what Fragile is all about:
About the Book
Everything she touches breaks . . .
Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong.
So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands.
But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for. Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own.
But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . .
Fragile is a dark, contemporary psychological thriller with a modern Gothic twist from an award-winning and critically acclaimed writer who has been compared to Ruth Rendell, P. D. James and Val McDermid. Rebecca meets The Handmaid’s Tale in Sarah Hilary’s standalone breakout novel.
Well this book is about as far from the world of Marnie Rome as you could get. That is no bad thing at all, not where this book is concerned, but if you have come looking for something similar, you will not find it. This is a truly absorbing and twisting psychological suspense, somewhere between thriller and a kind of gothic mystery. There is something strange and hypnotic about what goes on within the story of Nell Ballard, something melancholic and hard to describe, but certainly very beautiful in the telling.
This is not a fast paced story, there real are no moments of high tension or action, or even really any major twists, although there is a definite sting in this particular tale. It is a far more contemplative, a study of people, both of the protagonist Nell, but also those that she watches. For a young woman she is quite astute, forced to get the measure of people from an tragically early age. She is a character I found myself both rooting for and also slightly wary of, partly due to her obsessive behaviour when it came to finding her lost companion, but there is such sadness within her, such a sense of loss that envelops her, that you’d be hard pressed not to feel some sympathy towards her, no matter how she is seen to behave.
Nell spends a good proportion of her life in the foster care system, living under the watchful eye of Meagan. There were very much echoes of Miss Brannigan about Meagan, although Nell is far from being as wholesome as little orphan Annie, and Nell’s tale has far more tragedy and loss casting shadows over her future. It is clear that Meagan holds a grudge towards Nell, the reasons for which are unraveled in a slow and considered manner throughout. the novel. The story is told from the points of view of both women, casting suspicion upon each other and meaning that there is always an edge to what you are reading, never a full sense of being able to trust either of them which only adds to the mystery.
This is a truly atmospheric read in which setting is key. Although it is clear that this is set in modern times, it could easily be a period drama unfolding in front of our eyes. That whole idea of the master and servant, that strained relationship between Nell and her new employer, which is suffused with tension, plays out like it could have been written and set at the turn of the twentieth century. Robin Wilder is a stanged character, hard to get the measure of. He is stoic, reserved, and yet seemingly teeming with anger, although whether towards Nell or someone else is not immediately clear. His home makes for a perfectly creepy and isolating setting, again at odds with the modernity of London all around it. Scenes that play out within the walls of his home feel entirely different to others, somehow claustrophobic and layered with an unseen tension that just adds to the story.
There are so many aspects to the story that are hard to talk about without giving too much away. But this is most certainly a story of obsession and of passion. Exploring the intensity of relationships within the novel and they way in which it drives the characters to behaviour which will shock and appall, the story will bewitch you and draw you in without you even realising it. The tone and the narrative are perfect, creating uncertainty and apprehension, and often putting me as reader in a dream like state, never sure what was real and what all within the confines of Nell’s imagination. Dark, melancholic and suspenseful, it’s definitely recommended.
About the Author
SARAH HILARY’s debut Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and The Observer’s Book of the Month. In the US, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award. The sixth in her DI Marnie Rome series Never Be Broken is out now. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize. Fragile is her first standalone novel.
Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry.