I've been on Twitter almost 10 years and blogging for over 14, and see 'social media' as an integral part of my life. It surprises me that internet use is peripheral in most contemporary novels. Perhaps deliberately, because there's something quite odd reading a tech-heavy book from the Noughties, or even worse, the Nineties, that's all a bit ooh gosh. Funny that other technologies, such as cars or household appliances, seem 'period' rather than 'dated'.
Angela Clarke's debut novel is entirely driven by Twitter. The blurb says:
The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.
It's not my role to give a precis of the plot, suffice to say that this is a police procedural where the police get several leads from the killer's tweets.
The main protagonist is Freddie, a sort of journalist (gigging free for a thinly disguised Daily Liar) and looking for that big break, that scoop. She ends up as Social Media Adviser to the murder investigation team. That part is a little contrived, and, in my opinion, unlikely - or unlikely to have happened so swiftly, without bureaucracy. But I'm happy to forgive this because it sets the reader up for a stupendous novel.
When I like a book so much I am happy to give it five stars (out of five) I also try to find reasons to criticise it. (Conversely, I try to lavish praise where it's due on 2 and 3 star reviews). But it's actually very difficult to find reasons to criticise this.
There's a Thing in the past of Freddie and Sergeant Nas. They used to be BFFs and then this Thing happened. I find that vaguely irritating, but it seems to be a current fashion, perhaps forced onto writers by box ticking commissioning editors. It was a bit superfluous, perhaps it would have been enough to say they had drifted apart - Nas being sent to a different school. The thing is, you start to imagine the worst, like slaughter of all the first born in Hertfordshire (spoiler, they didn't do that), so the reveal is always going to be an anti-climax.
I'm a bit sceptical that Nas is already a Detective Sergeant at 23. I assumed for a while she had joined the police at 18, but, no, she had been to York University (and Freddie to Loughborough - marvellous invoking of universities that aren't the usual timeworn clichés). But this is minor nit-picking!
Otherwise the book is just perfect. The pacing is excellent. People often give the highest praise to a book with the cliché 'I couldn't put it down'. But I was enjoying this so much I wanted to put it down, to rest in between episodes, to get a sense of reading it in real time. We had some strong characterisation. Freddie was the leading character and the book was largely from her point of view. Not especially likeable, but very real. Mouthy and rash, we were also privy to her vulnerability and fear. Some very minor characters - such as the woman who provides the breakthrough by phoning the incident room - came to life, however briefly, which is a special writing talent. There were several police personnel where I was confused about my feelings - were they good cop or bad cop? - until I realised that that's how we mainly feel about people who flit through our working life.
Great plot, excellent resolution. Arguably a 'twist' but not one that clunkily announed itself 'here comes the twist'. It was actually hinted at early on, but I disregarded the hint because the author didn't make a big deal of it - as the police didn't, either!
Some people might not like the sordid casual sex. It amazes me that some people are content to read murder novels, often with gruesome post mortem descriptions, and always perpetrated by someone on the wrong side of morality, but the slightest hint of consenting adult sex gives them the screaming heebie jeebies and leaves them running for the hills. When they have the vapours in GoodReads or Amazon reviews, I wonder if it's a subconscious attempt to pressure the author into leaving out sex.
I want to say to all authors - keep it in! Your readership is mostly adult and can formulate their own views. I didn't get aroused by the sex, nor did I wish to emulate it, but I did feel that it was an honest look at the life of a random millennial (rather like the lives of random Gen X 25 years ago!).
A very contemporary novel - set less than a year ago. I don't know how it will age, but right now, I'll say read it for the whodunnit and some strong engaging personalities. It captures perfectly the zeitgeist of 2015 - which leaves me to wonder how authors will reflect the malfunction that is 2016!