Written by Louise Beech — In the breakneck world of thrill-a-minute crime fiction, it does a reader good to take a little breather now and again. Forget serial killers, troubled detectives and the like, and step into a much slower-paced world created by Hull-based author Louise Beech.
Meet Catherine-Maria Hope. Or should that be Catherine? Or Katrina? At face value she’s a feisty female, always ready with a one-liner. But Catherine (as she is known at the start of this book, so we’ll stick with that) has troubles aplenty. The biggest of all is that she cannot remember anything that happened when she was nine. The whole year is a blank.
Now in her mid-30s, Catherine has led a fairly aimless existence, filling her time by working in a care home and volunteering at Crisis Care, where on more than one occasion she listened, helplessly, as her caller committed suicide. The experience haunts her dreams, as does a faceless man with wild, unkempt hair… time for a change.
In a bid for a new start, Catherine assumes the name of Katrina as she volunteers to man the phones at a local phone helpline, which is appropriate as she is in Hull, the year is 2007, and the city is reeling after a catastrophic flood. In scenes reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, more than 30,000 people were left homeless. Some lived in caravans in their gardens, others went into B&Bs or, like Catherine, found a tatty flat to stay in while her house was being restored.
It’s a period I remember well as I lived in Hull at the time and many of my friends were affected by flooding, as was author Louise Beech who uses her local knowledge to create a true-to-life picture of a community struggling to survive under the stress of everyday living. Two examples of that become important to Catherine as she works the phones at Flood Crisis. The first, Helen, wants to talk about an affair she’s having with her college tutor, but Catherine senses there’s something else she really needs to discuss. Meanwhile, elderly stroke victim Sid is battling loneliness and isolation. His story, when he chooses to share it, is destined to turn everything on its head…
If you prefer instant gratification and endless thrills in a crime book, then this novel isn’t for you. Prepare for a slow burn as the author skilfully draws you in and refuses to let you go. Her characters exude life, including the needy folks at the end of a phone line, and Catherine’s promiscuous would-be newspaper columnist flatmate, Fern. There is her cold, prim and proper stepmother, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam that constitute the Flood Crisis team. All are completely recognisable. It takes a smart writer to create such an inclusive community spirit within the pages of a book!
Maria on the Moon is in no way a whodunit, rather a ‘whatwasdunandwhy’ with a literary crime fiction feel. I spent a large portion of this book internally debating whether it fitted into the crime fiction genre, but the crime, when it is revealed, is both brutal and shocking. Beech is a wonderfully lyrical writer but that velvet glove encases a knuckleduster that sends the reader reeling on more than one occasion.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars