Today I’m sharing my thoughts on The Other Half, the debut crime novel from Charlotte Vassell, and to wish the author a very happy publication day. I was fortunate enough to be given a sampler of this book back in the summer, and to meet the author at Harrogate, and it’s one I’ve been very much looking forward to reading. My thanks to publisher Faber for the advance copy of the book. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
The night before
Rupert’s 30th is a black tie dinner at the Kentish Town McDonald’s – catered with cocaine and Veuve Clicquot.
The morning after
His girlfriend Clemmie is found murdered on Hampstead Heath. All the party-goers have alibis. Naturally.
This investigation is going to be about Classics degrees and aristocrats, Instagram influencers and who knows who. Or is it whom? Detective Caius Beauchamp isn’t sure. He’s sharply dressed, smart, and as into self-improvement as Clemmie – but as he searches for the dark truth beneath the luxury, a wall of staggering wealth threatens to shut down his investigation before it’s begun.
Can he see through the tangled set of relationships in which the other half live, and die, before the case is taken out of his hands?
Bitingly funny, full of twists, and all too close to reality, this is a stunning debut from your next favourite crime writer.
I really enjoyed this book, a delicious blend of likeable and utterly loathsome, affected, characters, murder mystery and humour. With The Other Half, Charlotte Vassell has brought readers and wonderfully satirical look at the British class system through a variety of characters, from those who gained privilege by virtue of their ancestry, to those whose sense of entitlement and elitism comes more from their Oxbridge education. With names like Rupert, Araminta and Clemency or ‘Minty’ and ‘Clemmie’ as they are more affectionately known, you quickly get a sense of where this book is likely to go. But when one of the group is murdered, it is down to Detective Inspector Caius Beauchamp to find the guilty party. With a group nursing as many secrets as this, and with links to the aristocracy ensuring that the path to the truth will be a very bumpy one, full of roadblocks, we are almost guaranteed a story full of twists, surprising, and not so surprising, revelations, and an ending which thoroughly satisfies.
I really like that way in which Charlotte Vassell has created her characters. I can’t lie – the main group of friends, or should I say suspects, I found ti particularly difficult to like. There were perhaps one or two, Nell and Alex as notable exceptions, who seemed to be slightly more down to earth, but then there is that feeling that they are such a part of the group through a shared educational history more than the fact they are part of the monied elite. That and the fact that birthday boy Rupert is obsessed with Nell, a feeling that used to be reciprocated but from which Nell has most definitely moved on. There was a kind of wistfulness or even melancholy about Nell, like there is something just below the surface that prevents her from finding real happiness, and something which is gradually pushing her away from the friends she has had for so long. The more we learn about her, the more obvious the reason for her sadness becomes and the more invested I became in her character. It adds a layer of tension to the story and is quite key in how the whole story and direction of suspicion develops.
Rupert Beauchamp – spelt the same as the Detective but most deliberately pronounced differently is, what can simply be described as, a completely over-privileged idiot. Rich, heir to a title as soon as his not so beloved Grandfather passes, and completely oblivious and insensitive to the feelings of others, he has only one goal. To get exactly what he wants, exactly when he wants it. He is objectionable, the kind of character you love to hate. He’s that kind of vampiric personality that cares for no-ones opinion but his own and who has no concept of or care for the carnage his actions create. Tolerated for his contacts and influence perhaps more than he is truly liked. He kind of reminds me of a Jacob Rees Mogg character, only younger and better looking. Vile and yet compelling, even if it was only because I wanted to see him served his dues.
There are many threads to this book, the interpersonal relationships of the friends, the twisted and complicated ways in which their love lives, or lack there of, informed what came to pass, but this is, when the layers are pulled back, a murder investigation. To investigate a murder, you need a team of Police, and Caius Beauchamp and his colleagues, DS Matt Cheung, and DC Amy Noakes, are a revelation. I loved the humour between them particularly between Matt and Caius. Casual and yet strangely highbrow in their own middle-class way, but not taken as seriously as the people they are investigating. Caius is a great character, driven but also distracted, his personal life coming to bear on the story on more than the odd occasion. So much about his personality made me smile, especially his attempts to live a healthier lifestyle with You Tube Yoga and quinoa salads. And as for Matt, he makes the perfect partner, the banter back and forth giving a lighter edge to what would otherwise be quite a dark tale. I’m almost tempted to try lavender shortbread. Almost. There are many scenes which made me chuckle, others where I laughed out loud, where it is clear that the characters, and the author, do not take life too seriously.
This is a brilliant debut, challenging and witty. With themes including drug use, sexual assault, misogyny, and even racism, it would be very easy to have taken this book to a very dark place, but Charlotte Vassell maintains the balance of keeping the humour light enough to engage and amuse without ever trivialising the depravity which lurks at the core of the story. Towards the end, as the full truth of what has happened becomes clear, you can feel the pace and tension pick up and yet, even in these high stakes, highly emotional scenes, there is still that lightness that makes you smile even as the pulse begins to pound. I’m hoping we see more of Caius and his team. I’ve certainly looking forward to reading more from Charlotte Vassell. Definitely recommended.
About the Author
Charlotte Vassell studied History at the University of Liverpool and completed a Masters in Art History at SOAS, University of London, before training as an actor at Drama Studio London. Other than treading the boards Charlotte has also worked in advertising, executive search, and as a purveyor of silk top hats.
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