Review: BLOOD FROM STONE by Frances Fyfield


BLOOD FROM STONE is the story of a repugnant man, his equally repugnant lawyer and the people whose lives the pair impact. In a non-linear (but very readable) way a story of domestic horror unfolds in which Rick Boyd has caused such physical and psychological harm to his partner that she must be rescued by her sister and is eventually charged (I was never sure what with…rape? assault? kidnapping?). He is ably – too ably – represented by Marianne Shearer, a lawyer so determined to win that she welcomes the opportunity to bully and demean anyone who gets in her way. Soon after her win (and this is not a spoiler as it happens in the opening pages of the book) Marianne falls from the window of a London hotel and dies. There appears to be little doubt it was suicide but for the fact that Marianne seems the unlikliest of people to take such an action.

It’s a couple of days since I finished this book and I’m still not sure how I feel about it: It did make for compelling reading (or listening in my case) but there are some things about it that don’t quite gel. And then there’s the whole ‘the justice system is broken’ thing that can be guaranteed to make me squirm, though to be fair to the author that’s a reality that I can’t blame her for.

Fyfield has used a combination of trial transcript extracts and narrative sequences from several different points of view to reveal this complex story and she juggles all of these elements with aplomb. A less assured author would have left the reader floundering with the rapid changes. And the story itself is largely believable,slowly revealing all the tiny factors that led to the horrific outcome for so many people. The fact that the so-called justice system fails miserably in failing to convict Rick Boyd due solely to the shenanigans of his high-priced lawyer rather than points of law is, also, believable in the context that Fyfield creates (though if I’m honest she didn’t have to do a lot of convincing in my case).

Where the novel wasn’t quite as successful for me was in the characterisations and this is only partly due to the fact that most of the people we meet (even the good guys) aren’t terribly likable. Rick Boyd’s brand of repugnant psychopathy is credible enough to start with – plenty of people manipulate those around them and take advantage of people’s weaknesses – but the speed with which he seems to be able to bend people to his will became incredible to me when he met his lawyer’s brother (and sole heir) after her death. Marianne too doesn’t quite ring true. Frankly I doubt you could be a successful lawyer using the sort of appalling language and harassment she supposedly uses in the courtroom and I found the coincidence that led to her change of heart awkward and unconvincing (and unnecessary, the change of heart could have happened without this particular layer) (and yes I realise that sentence is a bit obtuse but I don’t want to give away any spoilers).

On the other hand I thought Fyfield was successful in depicting a person with two personas very different from each other, as perhaps many of us are. We discover that when not being a ruthless lawyer Marianne is a lover of vintage designer clothes and that her main intimate relationship is with a man who shares this love of fine things and the pair have created man rituals around this interest. The person who discovers this is Hen Joyce, sister of the woman who Rick Boyd assaulted and herself a lover of vintage clothing (in fact she works as restorer of them), and for me she is the most successful characterisation of the novel. Her internal conflict over what has happened to her sister and whether she stepped in at the right time seemed very natural, as did her confusion over how to respond to what she learns about Marianne’s personality after her death (versus what learned of it when being questioned by her as part of the trial).

In the end I would recommend the novel (and as it won the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Award for best crime novel of the year) as I thought the structure and plot construction first rate and some elements of the character development were also well done. Well worth a read if you like novels which tease out psychological themes and make the reader work a little (or wait a while) for such satisfactory justice as they’ll be allowed.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Rula Lenska
Publisher AudioGO [2009]
Length 10 hours 38 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone

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5 Responses to Review: BLOOD FROM STONE by Frances Fyfield

  1. Col says:

    Bernadette, fantastic review here. When all’s said and done though, I think I’ll pass on this one. More from a time/book management perspective than an aversion to this particular book or author.


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – What a thoughtful and well-written review. As I read it I was thinking about how often it is that we feel better about a book if at least one of the characters is someone we can like, or at least respect. It’s hard to create a really readable book without that. And I understand what you mean about unlikely behaviour for a character. Still, this does sound like something to ‘chew on’ after one reads or listens to it. Thanks.


  3. I think the clothes, and the cover by the look of things, will make me read this – your very helpful review would otherwise leave me unsure. Interesting issues raised from the sound of things, but unconvincing plot points don’t help….


  4. Felicity says:

    FF’s latest is called Casting the first Stone so these titles easy to confuse. I read this one a few years ago and can’t remember the problems with character that you pointed out, all I remember is I couldn’t put it down! Thanks for the revue, Bernadette, FF’s work doesn’t always gets the publicity it deserves.


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