Keep Her Sweet by Helen Fitzgerald

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Keep Her Sweet by Helen Fitzgerald as part of the blog tour. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the tour invite and to publisher Orenda Books for the advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 26 May 2022
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

When a middle-aged couple downsizes to the countryside for an easier life, their two daughters become isolated, argumentative and violent … A chilling, vicious and darkly funny psychological thriller from bestselling author Helen FitzGerald.

Desperate to enjoy their empty nest, Penny and Andeep downsize to the countryside, to forage, upcycle and fall in love again, only to be joined by their two twenty-something daughters, Asha and Camille.

Living on top of each other in a tiny house, with no way to make money, tensions simmer, and as Penny and Andeep focus increasingly on themselves, the girls become isolated, argumentative and violent.

When Asha injures Camille, a family therapist is called in, but she shrugs off the escalating violence between the sisters as a classic case of sibling rivalry … and the stress of the family move.

But this is not sibling rivalry. The sisters are in far too deep for that.

This is a murder, just waiting to happen…

Chilling, vicious and darkly funny, Keep Her Sweet is not just a tense, sinister psychological thriller, but a startling look at sister relationships and they bonds they share … or shatter.

My Thoughts

And I thought my family was dysfunctional … I mean, we’ve had the odd ding-dong over the years – who hasn’t? But still, nothing quite on the scale of the Moloney-Singhs. They are very much in a league of their own. And yet … they are recognisably authentic, if perhaps a little exaggerated for literary effect. But the kinds of challenges they face – sibling rivalry, failed relationships, the gradual drifting apart of a once tighter family unit – are things that a good number of readers would be able to identify with. Even the therapist, Joy, brought in to try and facilitate some kind of harmony amongst the warring family, faces challenges which are all too real, bringing her own unique perspective of conflict and angst into an already volatile little unit. And the results? A story which will entertain, surprise an perhaps challenge you in ways you are not expecting.

If you are looking for a Worst Case Scenario kind of dark humour, or maybe even the Ash Mountain kind of emotionally charged narrative where tension is as hot as the bushfire which dominates the story, then you are perhaps in for a bit of a surprise. This book felt, to me, like some kind of strange familial Big Brother experiment – a disintegrating family unit who move into less than glamorous accommodations and try to make the best of a relationship which can at best be described as strained. The Moloney-Singhs are a very odd bunch and I cannot say that I particularly warmed to any of them. There is Dad, Andeep, a disgraced comic whose jokes are wearing more than a little thin with his loved ones. Mom, Penny, who laughs in all the right places but who is bearing the strain with only slightly better grace and style than her daughters. As for the sisters, Asha and Camille – well let’s just say I’m glad that Mandie and I get on a lot better than we used to as kids. Talk about toxic relationships. Needy, demanding, striving for that ever elusive dominance and one-upmanship … And that could really describe either one. In fairness, Camille is perhaps the most logica and sane of the two, but by the end of the book, that really is just splitting hairs.

This really is a story of a family under fire. Of four people pulling in very different directions whilst all trying to live under one dark, dank, dull roof. Money troubles amplify and intensify the cracks, anger adding fuel to the slow burning fire which threatens to devastate them all. The narrative style is familiar and yet feels unique, told from the points of view of The Mum, The Second-Born, and The Therapist. It makes it feel slightly more clinical, like a psychologists dissection of their story rather than the first hand accounts that it could be. Even though the focus may be on specific characters point of view, it is a third person narrative perspective which steers us through Penny and Joy’s stories. Only The Second-Born, Camille, speaks with a first person voice, and whilst her viewpoint dominates, and her actions cause the biggest surprises of all, it is very much an ensemble story, one that is fascinating and disconnected all at once.

The book touches on themes of loss, obsession, betrayal and addiction. There are religious undertones, a kind of crazed belief system that drives Asha to a point of near madness and certainly some actions which would be well outside of the realms of Joy’s expertise. I questioned the actions of the family as a whole, occasionally sympathised with Joy and Camille, but, more often than not, had a desire to slap the whole lot of them. They’re the kind of people who I met them in real life, I’d walk away from, but, much like car crash TV, kept me rapt when it came to their story. It was a kind of morbid fascination – just how far can these guys fall. Pretty far apparently. Joy was a … revelation? I don’t know if that’s really he right word. She’s a mother, a widow and as resilient as hell. Ten out of ten for trying. 11 out of 10 for being a fixer of the most unexpected kind.

Oh, and Andeep really is a dick. Sorry. That just had to be said.

A fascinating an original tale of a family in rapid decline. The dark humour is still there, although more subtle than previous books, along with the hallmark touches of Helen Fitzgerald’s brilliant ability to create characters, albeit loathsome ones, and very vivid settings. But the strength of this book comes from the examination of family life. Of the spiralling madness and intensifying anger. Where both nothing and everything is happening all at the same time. It’s a train wreck you just know is waiting to happen, and the only question is who, if anyone, will survive.

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 adapted for a major BBC drama. Her 2019 dark-comedy thriller Worst Case Scenario was a Book of the Year in the Literary Review, Herald Scotland, Guardian and Daily Telegraph, shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and won the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award. Her latest title Ash Mountain was published in 2020. Helen worked as a criminal justice social worker for over fifteen years. She grew up in Victoria, Australia, and now lives in Glasgow with her husband.

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