Wednesday 15 May 2024

I was relieved to finally put down this 'unputdownable' book

The Couple at No. 9 Claire Douglas isn't writing books for people like me, but nevertheless I do have some positive things to say about The Couple at No. 9, so I'll start with those.

First, the premise is great. A young couple called Tom and Saffy Cutler move into a cottage in a village somewhere near Chippenham, Wiltshire. It's owned by Saffy's grandmother, Rose. They want to make some changes and begin with the garden. While digging the builders discover two bodies, buried 40 years earlier, when Rose was living there with her infant daughter, Lorna. Unfortunately the elderly woman has dementia and can't remember what happened.

Second, I enjoyed the first four chapters of the book, all of them narrated by Saffy.

That's about it. The more I read, the more I disliked, and only continued because it was a book club choice.

So, what didn't I like? The characters, for a start. Saffy is such a sap, often on the verge of tears, or frightened, "trying to keep the panic out of my voice. Oh, God, I’m going to have to ring for an ambulance. I’ve never phoned 999 in my life." Like many in the book, I mentally roll my eyes. Saffy's mother Lorna only cares about herself and I didn't find her actions credible. Rose was initially sympathetic, but this changed as the story developed.

I might have enjoyed it if it gave more than a passing thought to the motives of murderers and whether they can be rehabilitated. it is a best-seller tho', so I guess themes were sacrificed to pace.

The writing style wasn't to my taste either. It's told in the present tense, which didn't really work; sometimes Saffy narrates, sometimes Rose, and the other characters' points of view are written in the 3rd person. After a while all the voices merged into one; none of them sounded individual.

I usually look for professional reviews of any book I'm about to start reading and I found none for The Couple at No. 9. Even the Sunday Times, which had chosen it as 'Crime Book of the Month' hadn't reviewed it, other than providing a summary of the premise. It's described everywhere as 'unputdownable', which was not the case for me; although it grabbed me initially, the more I read, the more I wanted to stop.

Still, I'd recommend it to someone whose interest is in reading to escape, someone who wants simplicity of language, someone who associates with English middle-class aspirations to live in a house in the countryside rather than among the oiks. Slow, careful, thoughtful readers with a love of literary word-craft may be less impressed.

Finally, a quick scan of the reviews on goodreads reveals that many reviewers received a copy of the book free of charge. It's highly unlikely I'll be receiving a copy of Claire Douglas's next publication.

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