Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Author: Sophie Hannah
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Pub. Date: August 30, 2011
This is the second book of Sophie Hannah's that I've read, and I am truly thrilled to have found Hannah's books. Just as with The Wrong Mother, my first Hannah book, The Cradle in the Grave involved an intricate, gripping plot combined with literary elements and some controversial topics.
The Cradle in the Grave tells the story of three women whose children passed away for unexplained reasons. Some call it "crib death" or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), while others say the mothers murdered them. Two of the mothers are initially found guilty and later acquitted on appeal, and the other mother is found not guilty from the get-go. Fliss Benson, originally somewhat of a peon in the production company, Binary Star, is suddenly tasked with taking over production of the documentary on these "crib death murders". Then, Helen Yardley, one of the wrongly accused mothers is killed. Fliss, meanwhile, receives a card in the mail with 16 numbers on it (4 rows of 4); it just so happens that the murdered woman is found with one on her as well. So while Fliss tries to continue with the documentary and find out the truth about Helen's murder, document the history of the children's crib deaths, and possibly find out what really happened to the children (all while hoping she's not next), the entire local police station band together to solve the murder of the famed mother. Oh, and there's also the expert witness doctor who testified against all these mothers who is now being investigated and will likely lose her license.
First, let me say this book is apparently party of a series... I think. The detectives all appeared in The Wrong Mother. I don't remember much about them but their basic characteristics and their names. I'm not sure if their back stories are really integral to the series or not. I'm one of those that does NOT like reading series out of order... and turns out this is the most recent in the series and The Wrong Mother is third of five. Normally that would give me all kinds of reader anxiety, but I really didn't feel like I was missing anything. If I hadn't recognized the names, I wouldn't have realized I was reading a series. The core of this story was really the other characters, the mystery, and the scandals.
Not only is Hannah's writing wonderful, but I liked the format and structure of the book. Though most of the story is told through the traditional narrative methods (alternating chapters from the detectives in third person and Fliss Benson in first person), Hannah also included interview transcripts, excerpts from a book one of the characters wrote, an article written by another character, and later the prologue from another character's book. Now as I write it it sounds confusing, but truly it wasn't and it added a lot to the story.
As for the actual meat of the story, there was so much. Like I said, there was really intricate thriller, but it was combined with a pretty hot topic. In that vein, this book was sort of a vehicle for discussion. There was a time in the past when I stopped a book midway through and really had a lot of negative to say about it because it felt like the author must have been wronged and clearly had an agenda. As I have spent my entire post-college career in child welfare, I took offense to that. I worried momentarily that The Cradle in the Grave was going there as well. Hannah's characters ruminate and philosophize on the concept of crib death and on the child welfare system. (Turns out the child welfare system in the UK works exactly as the one in Florida!) So, of course, if the characters criticized parts of it (which they surely did), I was thinking of the rebuttals and rationalizations in my head. And I also happen to know a lot about "crib deaths" from my last job, so whenever there was talk about the symptoms of all the various injuries, I was SURE I knew what happened. Turned out, though, that Hannah managed to present rational arguments from both sides of the debate and really represented the topic well, in my mind. I liked how the book ended in that while the mystery was solved, the other topics left me thinking. There's definitely a lot that could be discussed after reading this book, though I would only recommend discussion of it to the most democratic and sensitive of groups.
The Cradle in the Grave was fantastically put together and wove in quite the hot topic for debate. I can't wait to read more of Hannah's books.