Written by Helen FitzGerald — Helen FitzGerald is one of those authors you just can’t pigeonhole. She roves across the genres, producing works of dark comedy then wicked psychological novels, YA and sci-fi, rising to the peculiar challenges of each and producing books which are by turns, playful, vicious and deeply disturbing. What links them is the inventiveness of her plots and the strength of her voice. Her latest, The Cry, is a blend of psychological fiction and noir, which takes every parent’s biggest fear and makes it so much more harrowing.
From the opening pages, set on a fractious long haul flight between Glasgow and Melbourne, we know that something terrible is going to happen to baby Noah and we know that his parents Joanna and Alistair are going to try and cover it up. And by chapter two we know that Joanne will soon be in court, accused of shaking Noah, barracked by hostile lawyers and at the mercy of her fellow passengers, who have endured his crying and her challenges. But the details are skilfully held back and the narrative skips between timelines, ratcheting up the tension as events unfold and Joanna and Alistair’s perfect relationship is stripped down to its bones.
Noah’s disappearance from their unlocked car, parked outside a milk bar on a quiet street in Australia, sparks a full scale police hunt and puts the couple at the centre of a media circus which quickly spreads from the usual outlets onto Twitter and Facebook, with a particularly vicious and well informed blogger speculating on the couple’s guilt.
Under such intense scrutiny even the most innocent people are likely to crack. For Joanna and Alistair the pressure is even more intense, as the inconsistencies in their story mount up and the cracks begin to appear in their seemingly solid relationship. Alistair, the slick PR man thinks he can finesse the situation, all Joanna has to do is behave exactly how he tells her, but as he becomes more controlling and she slides deeper into despair, Joanna begins to suspect that what really happened to Noah might be even more devastating than she first thought.
I finished The Cry feeling absolutely hollowed out and I can only imagine how much more affecting it will be to parents, because this book takes a nightmare scenario and wrings every last drop of suspense out of it. It’s gut wrenching in places, heart breaking in others, a purely visceral experience like very few other crime novels I can think of.
Its success lies in large part with the character of Joanna; she’s no advert-perfect young mother, she’s fallible and scared and sometimes she hates her baby. That’s an admission which is still taboo to voice, and we feel for her every step of the way. Alistair by contrast appears to be the ideal new man, charismatic and powerful but so good with his little boy, and watching the Machiavellian, PR brain coming ticking through the facade is truly chilling. It’s impossible to read this book without thinking of similar real life cases – one in particular – but The Cry moves so swiftly, with such assured glide, that you won’t have the chance to dwell on them.
The Cry has been packaged to appeal to fans of Sophie Hannah and Julia Crouch – those doyennes of domestic noir – and while FitzGerald’s style is more streamlined, darker and earthier, I think those fans will do well to add her to their must-read lists. 2013 has already proved to be a strong year for psychological fiction but The Cry is without question the best yet.
Faber and Faber Crime
CFL Rating: 5 Stars