Book review: The Hummingbird's Cage by Tamara Dietrich

Trapped in a marriage to an abusive, violent police officer, battered wife Joanna West has no one to turn to'¦ until a stranger offering help walks into her life.
The Hummingbirds Cage byTamara DietrichThe Hummingbirds Cage byTamara Dietrich
The Hummingbirds Cage byTamara Dietrich

For the first time in years, Joanna and her young daughter have the chance to flee, but can you ever really escape from a brutal, vengeful husband?

Moved and inspired by the testaments of abused wives, former journalist Tamara Dietrich tackles the scourge of domestic violence head on in a highly original and powerfully imagined debut novel which melds menace with paranormal magic.

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The Hummingbird’s Cage, a hard-hitting, page-turning thriller with an intriguingly soft middle, almost defies genre as Dietrich weaves seamlessly between gut-wrenching cruelty and spiritual sublimity in a tale of hope, despair and redemption.

Everyone in Wheeler, New Mexico, thinks that Joanna West leads the perfect life. She is married to Jim, the dashing deputy sheriff of McGill County, and has a beautiful seven-year-old daughter, Laurel.

But the truth is that Joanna is married to a monster who regularly beats her, subjects her to verbal and mental abuse and has isolated her from the people who live around her. Once upon a time she would have challenged him but now every time Joanna cries, ‘more of me washes away.’

Ten years ago, Joanna was swept off her feet by handsome Jim, her head turned by his uniform and ‘bad-boy grin’ but now she is trapped in a violent marriage and, with a young child to care for, escape seems impossible.

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But then Bernadette, Jim’s feisty biker chick ex-girlfriend, turns up with an escape route. On the run, Joanna and Laurel stumble upon Morro, a charming and magical village that seems to exist out of time and place.

Farmer Olin Farnsworth and his wife Jessie offer her sanctuary and soon, between the comfort of her new home and blossoming friendships, Joanna’s soul begins to heal, easing the wounds of a decade of abuse.

But her past – and her husband – aren’t so easy to escape. Unwilling to live in fear any longer, Joanna must summon a strength she never knew she had to fight back and forge a new life for her daughter and herself....

Dietrich delivers a clever and compelling first novel, conjuring up a mysterious but idyllic town suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy, and juxtaposing this haven of peace with the terrifying threats that lie behind and beyond.

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To read The Hummingbird’s Cage is to experience high emotion and high drama and to understand the visceral realities of domestic violence, but there is also the opportunity to marvel at the power of love and hope, and to rejoice at the human capacity to reach out and find redemption.

A heartbreaking tale written with insight, beauty and honesty…

(Orion, paperback, £7.99)