House of Correction by Nicci French: Wild and unpredictable rollercoaster ride for thriller fans - book review -
Thirty-year-old Tabitha Hardy is facing a murder charge and knows for sure that she didn’t do it…
But she’s locked up, has little recollection of the day her neighbour was stabbed to death, and her solicitor thinks she’s guilty… can she prove her innocence from behind the bars of her prison cell?
Psychological suspense is firmly ingrained into the DNA of Nicci French, pseudonym for the brilliant writing partnership of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, the married couple from London whose twenty-two novels include the bestselling Frieda Klein series.
And now they make a stunning comeback with an unforgettable standalone thriller which combines the classic locked-room whodunit with an enthralling courtroom drama and a troubled amateur sleuth who’s as prickly as a porcupine and as angry as a raging bull.
House of Correction – a breathless, edge-of-the-seat page-turner imbued with dark comedy – plays perfectly into the narrative of ‘everyone’s nightmare scenario’ as readers are plunged into the turbulent life our bold and bolshie protagonist when she is forced to fight against the odds, her medication-suppressed memory, and a hard-core jail system, to clear her name.
Everyone in the small Devon coastal village of Okeham knows that Tabitha Hardy is a murderer. On the night of December 21, she stabbed to death Stuart Rees, her neighbour and her former schoolteacher. His body was found in her garden shed and she was covered in his blood.
So now Tabitha is in prison on remand, awaiting trial for murder, and feeling like she’s in ‘a the middle of a car crash and the car crash is going on and on and on.’ She wants to tell her fellow inmates that she’s not the one, and doesn’t belong there, but no one would listen.
Coming back to live in the place where she grew up only a few weeks ago was a big mistake. Tabitha didn’t fit in then, and she doesn’t fit in now. People don’t like her and she doesn’t like most of them either.
But the big problem for Tabitha is that the day of the murder is such a blur. The medication she takes for depression means she can’t remember clearly what happened, she has a history with the murder victim, and she senses that there’s something she’s missing… something important.
Tabitha only knows one thing… she is not capable of murder. However, her lawyer doesn’t believe her story and wants her to plead guilty to manslaughter to reduce her sentence. But Tabitha wants to prove her innocence and the only person she can trust to help her out of this nightmare is… herself.
This superbly crafted thriller works on every level thanks to ingenious plotting, a cast of acutely observed and authentic characters, and a story which cleverly explores prejudice, what it means to be an outsider, the mechanisms of the penal and justice system, and the harsh realities of life behind bars.
Abrasive , hostile and virtually friendless, and yet tough, loyal and brave under fire, Tabitha’s plight becomes all too real and by the time her case moves into the unforgiving gaze of the courtroom, readers are fully invested in her battle for justice.
As the truth is slowly but surely revealed, and the complexities of Tabitha’s past and present life start to unravel, the narrative pace increases in power and intensity right through to the final, shocking, but satisfying, twist in the tail.
A wild and unpredictable rollercoaster ride for thriller fans!
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)