Crime Fiction


Alice Feeney

Our book group gives Alice Feeney's new book some mixed reviews - from poor to brilliant!
Article text
Our book group never works to a set reading list, so it’s unusual for us to all read the same book at the same time. But a little while ago we were able to obtain a number of copies of a new thriller by the writer Alice Feeney: I Know Who You Are

Alice Feeney is a writer and journalist. She spent 16 years at the BBC, where she worked as a Reporter, News Editor, Arts and Entertainment Producer and One O'clock News Producer. She has lived in London and Sydney and has now settled in the Surrey countryside, where she lives with her husband and dog.

Alice has so far written two psychological thrillers: Sometimes I Lie (March 2018) and I Know Who You Are (May 2019).

Before I continue I should say a bit about the book. I can quote the synopsis without giving away too much:

‘Meet Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can't remember where from. Except one person. Someone knows Aimee very well. They know who she is and they know what she did. When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn't seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she's hiding something and they're right, she is – but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she's never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.’

Our book group has been running for nearly 18 months now. Getting to know and be at ease with other members, and therefore getting increasingly comfortable about expressing my opinions, has made me realise that just being a fan of crime fiction doesn’t mean we all like and read the same sorts of books. Or even that we enjoy the same writers or writing styles.

I Know Who You Are is told through a series of flashbacks, interspersed with events of the present day. This literary device was something which generated a lot of discussion at our meeting. But it became clear that opinions also differed wildly on writing style, plot and characters.

At the low end of the rating scale, Teasel felt the book was gripping but thought the ending was much too far-fetched, with too many loose ends and unexplained, or even glossed over, actions for it to be believable. Cornish Eskimo and Oxo had a similar view. Neither liked the flashbacks because they felt they disrupted the story, and both felt the ending had been written only for its shock value. And as they found themselves disliking the main female protagonist, Aimee, they didn't care about her. For these reasons they awarded only 2-Stars.

But there were plenty in our group who ranged themselves at the other end of the rating scale. Calendar Girl thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it thought-provoking, even though she didn’t like many of the characters. In fact, she found only one of the main male characters believable and therefore likeable. One of the reading group questions in the back of the book asks: "Who is the main villain?" Calendar Girl thought that all the main characters were equally villainous. She gave it 4-Stars and will certainly choose another Alice Feeney book to read.

As for me, Freyja, I actually really enjoyed I Know Who You Are! I could easily see its flaws and loose ends. But to be honest, I didn’t worry too much about them because it was such a tour de force. I actually liked Aimee. I could certainly see an explanation for most of the loose ends. I enjoyed the convoluted plot and the outrageous ending. And, as to the villain, I felt that certainly most of the people in it were villains (if you read it you may well see why!). But I didn’t think Aimee was a villain as much as a victim; and a rather likeable, and eventually quite feisty, heroine. And I didn't have an issue with the flashbacks.They kept me on my toes trying to keep track of the timelines.

In my opinion Alice Feeney writes well, and is a master at creating a tense, dark and threatening atmosphere. She's also a master of thinking up plots which are as convoluted as a corkscrew. I enjoyed reading this book so much I finished it in one day and, like Calendar Girl, I spent time afterwards thinking about the plot and getting the corkscrew straightened out in my mind. So I give I Know Who You Are 4, or even 4+ Stars, and I’ll certainly read another of her books… which is what I did.

So, what does all this say about us as a reading group? Well, just what I mentioned at the start, that just because we read crime fiction doesn’t mean we all like the same sort of crime fiction.The ones who disliked this book tend to read and enjoy more straightforward crime books, with a detective and a linear narrative. I, and to some extent Calendar Girl, seem to enjoy psychological thrillers – the darker and more convoluted the better! Of course this is a bit of a generalisation. In our group we all read all sorts of books, but we each have definite preferences.

There was one thing about I Know Who You Are that we did all agree on. And that is that the book would make a good film or TV series. There’s something very visual about the story and the problems identified by some of us – especially the flashbacks and loose ends – could more easily be dealt with on screen. Maybe the book was written with this in mind.

After reading and enjoying I Know Who You Are, I went on to borrow Alice Feeney’s debut novel, Sometimes I Lie. I don’t often write a negative review in this blog but I really feel I have to give an honest opinion here and, in the case of Sometimes I Lie, I’d have to say ‘Don’t bother to read it’.

The story also concerns a woman in a difficult and dangerous situation. Yes, it was gripping, but that was the only thing in its favour. The story was too far-fetched even for me. The two female protagonists were thoroughly unlikeable, even nasty; as were most of the other characters. And apart from the hapless husband of one of the women, nobody is even close to what and whom they seem to be. There are three separate timelines to follow (present day, a week ago and twenty years ago) which makes it a bit too difficult to keep track of. And on top of that, the story seems to change horses in mid-gallop as it were. The story is shocking, but seemed shocking just for the sake of it. And don’t get me started on the ending. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out what happened, or what it meant. One of the suggested reading group questions is "What did you think of the ending?" and my answer would have to be "Not a lot!"

Oundle Library’s Crime Fiction Book Group is free to attend and meets at Oundle Library on the third Friday of each month at 2.30pm. We don’t have a set reading list. Instead, we agree a ‘theme’ for the month and choose the books and authors we want to read within that. Everyone welcome.