THE DEAD LIE DOWN by Sophie Hannah

Book Quote:

“I saw a therapist for years. I stopped when I realized there was no fixing the broken bits…. When your world falls apart and everything’s ruined, you lose part of yourself. Not all, inconveniently. One half, the best half, dies. The other half lives.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (JUN 4, 2010)

Sophie Hannah’s The Dead Lie Down is a multi-faceted psychological thriller about guilt, revenge, self-destruction, and redemption. All of the major characters have something to hide and they reveal their secrets reluctantly. Aiden Seed, who frames pictures for a living, has decided that he and the woman he loves, Ruth Bussey, should be open with one another before they become intimate. Ruth hesitantly admits that she did something shameful and was punished excessively for her actions. Aiden is sympathetic, saying, “The worst things stow away in the hold, follow you wherever you go.” It is then his turn to confess: “Years ago, I killed someone.” “Her name was Mary. Mary Trelease.”

When Aiden makes his startling admission, Ruth is appalled. She cannot say to Aiden that it doesn’t matter. Instead, she confides in someone she admires, Sergeant Charlotte Zailer, who is part of the community policing team for the town of Spilling. The catch is that the woman Aiden claims to have killed is not dead. Mary Trelease lives at 15 Megson Crescent on the Winstanley Estate, a rough neighborhood whose residents are steeped in squalor and hopelessness. Trelease is a painter who jealously guards her work from prying eyes. Aiden shows no obvious signs of mental illness, so why is he confessing to a murder that he did not commit?

Sophie Hannah goes back and forth in time, and shifts point of view frequently. In addition, the author teases us with bits of information that, by themselves, mean very little. Eventually, the puzzle pieces come together to form a ghastly and unutterably depressing whole.

Sophie Hannah is a fine descriptive writer with a strong eye for detail. Her depiction of a party during which Charlie and her fiancé, DC Simon Waterhouse, celebrate their engagement at “a dingy room in a pub,” along with family and friends, is excruciating, embarrassing, funny, yet also unutterably sad. Simon and Charlie are a wounded pair and people say cruel things about them behind their backs. What should have been a festive occasion turns into a cringe-worthy fiasco. Simon’s boss, DI Proust, known as the Snowman, is creepy, cold-blooded, sarcastic, and completely unreasonable. He and Simon loathe one another, and their interactions are painful to observe.

The problem with this book is not the characterizations, which are heartbreakingly authentic, but the plot, which is byzantine and as far over the top as one can get. If an author requires more than one or two pages of exposition to explain everything that has gone before, this is a clue that something may be amiss. The Dead Lie Down concludes with such a lengthy explanation, intended to clarify the muddy narrative, that a scorecard would have been welcome to keep track of who did what to whom. How much more satisfying this novel would have been had the story been less dense and more grounded in reality.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 39 readers
PUBLISHER: Penguin (Non-Classics) (June 1, 2010)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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Note: Sophie Hannah is also an accomplished poet, see her website for more information on her poetry books.

June 4, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, Psychological Suspense, United Kingdom

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