Review: THE CARRIER by Sophie Hannah

This book was chosen for my monthly book club read so I didn’t read a review or its blurb before toddling home with one of my library’s copies. I like to think I had an open mind, though I will admit my one previous exposure to a Shophie Hannah novel wasn’t a terribly positive one.

The opening chapter of THE CARRIER is narrated by Gaby Struthers. She is a 38 year-old business woman who does a lot of travelling for work. On one trip she is prevented from flying out of Dusseldorf airport by bad weather and becomes trapped into looking after one of her fellow passengers, a younger woman called Lauren, whom Gaby thinks of as an ‘unstable tattooed moron’ . Gaby’s sarcastic, superior-sounding internal monologue as she deals with Lauren’s anger at being late and other rants is both funny and cruel but overall did have me thinking I might enjoy the read.

Which is just about the time things fell apart, enjoyment-wise. Lauren has announced that she shouldn’t let a man take the fall for a murder he did not commit but Gaby only finds out many hours later that the man Lauren is talking about is Tim Breary who has confessed to murdering his wife Francine. Though she lives with a different man, Gaby is in love with Tim Breary and vows that she will prove his innocence and thus allow the two of them to live together…finally.

And so begins a tortured tale of thoroughly unlikeable  not terribly believable people, any of whom I would happily have murdered myself if it meant getting to the end of this tome a little bit sooner.

The cast is rounded out by a wealthy married couple called Kerry and Dan who allowed Tim and his wife to move into their mansion two years previously when Francine had a stroke leaving her unable to move or speak and needing 24-hour care. Like Tim they despise Francine for the cruel woman she was pre-stroke, but they adore Tim and want to help him out. Lauren, who we met as the anxious traveller in the book’s opening, was employed as Francine’s carer and she also lives in the mansion along with her husband Jason who is handyman-cum-gardener-cum-thug.

For reasons that are never even remotely clear to me Tim inspires complete worship amongst a mini cult of devotees, i.e. Gaby, Kerry and Dan. As depicted he is an asinine  self-indulgent, bore constantly droning on about his unworthiness. Either he or the author thinks throwing a few lines of poetry into every conversation makes him seem intellectual but honestly it just made him a bit more of a pratt. In short he has all the charisma of wet socks on a winter’s day and I simply did not believe that three adult human beings (even ones with dysfunctional personal histories of their own) would devote themselves to him so fully (Kerry and Dan in particular uproot their own lives completely several times just to be able to serve Tim).

The problem is that this premise underpins the whole story and because I did not buy into it even a little bit the rest of the thing was…well…laughable.

My incredulity only rose a notch or three when the officers of the Spilling police station entered the fray. This completely dysfunctional group of dolts includes Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer who I first met in LITTLE FACE where I thought their fractured relationship completely unworkable. Apparently there have been 6 books in between that book and this one and, unfathomably, the pair are still together. Indeed they’re married now but appear to be as emotionally crippled as they were at the beginning. It’s clear from early events here that a lot more has gone on between these two and amongst their wider group of colleagues and while I don’t know the details of all this sordid nonsense I gather none of it has been pleasant. The upshot of it all is an entire station populated by people who would never actually be employed in a police force but, more to the point, who add absolutely nothing to this story at all aside from word count and tedious sidetracks into infidelity and appalling parenting.

The reason they enter the story at all is because even though Tim has confessed to killing his wife and all the other people involved agree that Tim killed his wife the constabulary diverts its apparently endless resources to investigating the notion that Tim is innocent. There’s a bunch of baffling shenanigans from the boss of the station to ensure that a full investigation takes place and it all seems so far-fetched to me that I have made a mental note that if I ever am accused of a crime I should proclaim my guilt loudly and often as the likeliest way to  make sure the police look for some other bugger to pin it on.

There’s no doubt that Hannah can string a sentence together in a way that is a pleasure to read but that alone doesn’t make a worthwhile reading experience, at least not for me. Her characters are ugly and unrealistic en masse, her plotting tries too hard to be clever and just ends up being tedious and her supposed exploration of human psychology is cruel and borders on the puerile.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton [2013]
ISBN/ASIN 9780340980736
Length 418 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #8 in the Simon Waterhouse/Spilling Police series

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7 Responses to Review: THE CARRIER by Sophie Hannah

  1. Kathy D. says:

    I read your review and must say that I read two of Sophie Hannah’s earlier books, and felt the exact same way about the characters and about their cruelty. After the second read, I decided never to read her books again. I don’t have more to say about this but I was disappointed twice and won’t try again.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – I’ve read one or two things by Sophie Hannah and thought her writing style, as you say, to be skilled. but you’re right. That’s not nearly enough to draw me into a book for long and certainly not long enough to keep me there. I think – no, I’m quite sure – I’ll give this one a miss.


  3. Anonymous says:

    One to avoid then. I think I bought my wife Lasting Damage a couple of years ago which she hasn’t got to yet, so neither have I. Boy, I can hardly wait!


  4. I think your review is excellent, really enjoyed reading it, thank you! I must admit I am a Sophie Hannah fan , have read all her previous ones, and have just got this book from the library and will start it soon, so will be very interested to see if I agree with your view. I suspect that some of the reasons you did not like the book e.g. the dysfunctional relationship of Waterhouse and Charlie, are precisely the reasons I like the books, what can I say, I am a sick bunny – I really liked Flynn’s Gone Girl too But maybe Hannah has gone off the boil with this one? I look forward to finding out. Anyway, I am loving your blog, one of my must reads now.


  5. Sarah says:

    I read ‘Kind of Cruel’ and really enjoyed it. This one is sitting on my shelf and I think I’ll give it a go anyway!


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