Review: THE CRY, Helen Fitzgerald

  • Published 2013, Faber & Faber UK
  • ISBN 978-0-571-28770-3
  • 307 pages
  • source: library book

Synopsis (Amazon)

He’s gone. And telling the truth won’t bring him back…

When a baby goes missing on a lonely roadside in Australia, it sets off a police investigation that will become a media sensation and dinner-table talk across the world.

Lies, rumours and guilt snowball, causing the parents, Joanna and Alistair, to slowly turn against each other.

Finally Joanna starts thinking the unthinkable: could the truth be even more terrible than she suspected? And what will it take to make things right?

The Cry is a dark psychological thriller with a gripping moral dilemma at its heart and characters who will keep you guessing on every page.

My Take

Anybody who has flown a long flight, say Glasgow to Dubai, in the company of a small child, or been sitting near one, can empathise with the situation when the child constantly cries. That’s where we start with Joanna and Alistair and their baby Noah. For Joanna this becomes the trip from hell, although Alistair seems to be able to sleep through it all. The second leg of the journey from Dubai to Melbourne is only a little better.

The journey starts badly at departure when airport security declares that the bottles that Joanna’s antibiotics and Noah’s Calpol are too big. That leads Joanna into making a crucial error.

The family is on its way to Melbourne so that Alistair can claim custody of his teenage daughter from his ex-wife who brought Chloe back to Australia illegally. When Noah goes missing from the car when they are driving to Geelong, the custody of Chloe still looms large for Alistair in particular. It becomes even more crucial when Noah remains missing.

This story twists in directions the reader just couldn’t predict. The general public becomes involved in the search for Noah not only through media releases but also through social networking like Facebook and Twitter. Joanna and her reactions to her baby’s disappearance come under public scrutiny, with the rumour mill coming perilously close to the truth.

Although firmly set in Australia (Joanna and Alistair land in Melbourne when small towns near Geelong are threatened by bushfires) the setting could almost be anywhere and Helen Fitzgerald has the reader asking how they would have reacted in similar circumstances.

A really good read, touching issues that go well beyond the disappearance of a baby.

My rating: 4.7

See other reviews

I’ve also reviewed

Novels by Helen Fitzgerald (from Fantastic Fiction)

Dead Lovely (2007)
My Last Confession (2009)
The Devil’s Staircase (2009)
Bloody Women (2009)
Amelia O’Donohue Is So Not a Virgin (2010)
Hot Flush (2011)
The Donor (2011)
Deviant (2013)
The Cry (2013)

About the author (Fantastic Fiction)

Helen FitzGerald is one of thirteen children and grew up in Victoria,
Australia. She nows lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.
Helen has worked as a parole officer and social worker for over ten
years. Her first novel, Dead Lovely, was published in 2007.

See the author’s blog.

Review: THE CRY by Helen Fitzgerald

TheCryFitzgeraldHelen21077_fWhen we meet Joanna Lindsay, Alistair Robertson and their 9 week old son Noah they are experiencing a long, uncomfortable flight from Scotland, where they live, to Australia, where Alistair was born. Baby Noah cannot be settled and by flight’s end Joanna and her fellow passengers are frazzled, though Alistair has managed to get some sleep. During the couple’s drive from Melbourne airport to Alistair’s home town Noah goes missing which sparks a police investigation, a social media backlash against Joanna and trauma for Alistair’s ex-wife and teenage daughter.

After reading three of her books I’ve learned that Helen Fitzgerald can be extraordinarily cruel to the people she creates. Not ‘sadistic serial killer makes suits of human skin after lengthy torture sessions’ kind of cruel; rather she puts them through scenarios that are entirely believable in their ordinariness and totally horrific in their psychological impact. Here it is Joanna who is put through the wringer quite literally from the book’s very beginning to its bitter end and it is done with such skill and credibility that the reader cannot help but feel as if they too have lived through the woman’s harrowing experiences. For me this kind of tale – one where I can identify with the everyday situations in which the characters find themselves and can imagine the awfulness of the consequences when things go horribly wrong after a split second’s inattention or distraction – makes for a far more satisfying reading experience than the endless stream of serial killer tomes could ever do.

The structure of this novel works well too, offering several points of view though mainly that of Joanna and Alexandra (Alistair’s ex-wife). We get parts of the story from only one perspective and others are seen from both women’s viewpoint. Then there are the segments that show us what “the public” are thinking and saying through their tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates. As well as allowing an aspect of the story to be told inventively these snippets also offer some insight into the downside of this thoroughly modern phenomenon. The ease with which public opinions are made and changed based on rumour and ill-informed supposition is depicted very cleverly here.

THE CRY is an intelligent, surprising and totally compelling novel which I read in a single sitting (I’m not counting the several periods during which I put it down to make a nice, calming cup of tea as I soon hurried back on each such occasion). I won’t pretend it’s an easy read – especially for any new mums – but if you fancy an above average tale of psychological suspense during which you will often ponder how you would react (or have done) in the same circumstances then I highly recommend THE CRY.

awwbadge_2013THE CRY is the 17th book I’ve read that counts towards this year’s Australian Women Writers challenge.

I’ve reviewed one other Helen Fitzgerald novel here at Fair Dinkum Crime: 2011’s THE DONOR

Publisher: Faber and Faber [2013]
ISBN: 9780571287703
Length: 320 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

The most impressive Australian crime fiction in 2011

It’s list making time of year so here at Fair Dinkum HQ we’ve each made a list of the five Australian crime fiction titles that impressed us most this year. Not all are 2011 publications and some have yet to be released beyond our shores but this mixture of new titles by favourite authors and outstanding debuts is a cracker of a collection if I do say so myself.

Kerrie speaking here…

I’ve only read 16 Australian titles this year, and am already formulating New Years Eve resolutions that I will do better in 2012. Nevertheless the problem in picking my top reads is that so many of them were so good and it was difficult to draw a cut off line. Not all of the titles were 2011 publications either.

So here are my top 5.

My top pick was THE WRECKAGE by Michael
Robotham, published in 2011, in which our old friend Vincent Ruiz teams up with a new character, investigative journalist Luca Terracini. THE WRECKAGE is a contemporary thriller set against the background of both the world financial crisis and the attempts to build Iraq in the face of both greed and terrorism. It reflects both Robotham’s meticulous research, and his ability to create great fictional characters. He describes the main characters in a way that makes you really care about what happens to them.

I really can’t choose between the other four, so the order in which they appear is not preferential.

In Katherine Howell‘s COLD JUSTICE, published in 2010, paramedic Georgie Riley and Detective Ella Marconi are travelling similar paths, returning to work after traumatic incidents that resulted in hospitalisation and being off work for some months.  Katherine Howell has used a formula similar to the one she used successfully in both THE DARKEST HOUR, and her debut novel FRANTIC: parallel plots that advance in tandem, each generating their own sense of suspense. The link between the two plots is Detective Ella Marconi. Again the paramedic characters are new, while Marconi provides the common thread from one novel to the next.

WHISPERING DEATH, published in 2011, affirms that Garry Disher is a master storyteller, a tight and consummate plotter, a writer who could sit on any international podium along with richer and more famous crime fiction writers. This is #6 in Disher’s Hal Challis series, firmly bedded in the 21st century, and reflecting on the problems of maintaining a strong police force, chasing rapists, armed robbers, and home invaders, in the face of diminishing funding and stretched resources.

Set in post-war Australia, this time post World War Two, with a policeman returning to work in a world that will never be the same, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL by Geoffrey McGeachin, published in 2011, reminded me a lot of the Charles Todd series. Like Ian Rutledge in that series Charlie Berlin was in the police force before the war. Although the police force was an exempt trade he volunteered for service and was posted to the RAF in Britain. He took off on 30 missions over Germany, but, in his words, landed only 29 of them and ended up in a P.O.W. camp. For me, Geoff McGeachin has hit on a winner with this new series and I hope we see more of Charlie Berlin. It appealed to me on several fronts – historical, crime fiction, Australia.

My final choice is FINAL CUT by debut West Australian author Alan Carter, also published in 2011.  What makes this novel remarkable is the way the author ambitiously forwards two plot strands in tandem. It took a bit of getting used to at first. There is little to tell the reader that you’ve changed from one plot to another, just a change of characters. Often, but not always, the plots are basically at the same point, like the interviewing of a suspect.

But there’s much more than that to keep the reader involved. There are prior links between some of the characters which are gradually teased out for us. There are genuine murder mysteries with lots of attendant red herrings. There’s a good feel for the climate in Western Australia, both physical and economic. And there is some excellent characterisation.

And now it’s Bernadette’s turn

So far I’ve managed to read 35 books by Australian crime writers this year. I’m about half way through another one which is enjoyable but I already know it’s not quite good enough to nudge any of these off the list so I don’t feel too concerned about finalising the list a few days before the end of the year.

Y.A. Erskine’s debut novel THE BROTHERHOOD absolutely blew me away. Partly this is because I had no expectations when I opened the front cover (I knew nothing about the book other than it was written by an Aussie woman) but mostly it’s because it’s bloody brilliant. A Tasmanian policeman is shot while on duty and the events of the day are recounted from different points of view – his rookie partner, the Police Commissioner, his estranged wife, the culprit etc – who each get a single chapter from which a whole picture of the leadup to and ramifications of the shooting emerges. I loved everything about this book – the structure, the flawed but believable people, the way the story kept surprising me, the themes that Erskine explored. This book is vying with one other title for the very top spot on my favourite books of the year (Aussie or otherwise) and my only complaint is that is hasn’t gotten the wide attention it so richly deserves.

Like Kerrie I’m not going to list the rest in order of preference, they’re all worth your attention.

Kathryn Fox‘s DEATH MASK was one of the first books I read this year and it ended up being the book I voted for in the reader’s choice category of this year’s Davitt Awards. It starts out simply enough with a young woman testing positive for a sexually transmitted disease that she cannot understand how she contracted given her sexual history and so she assumes there has been some mistake at the clinic. The story’s dark turn reveals the betrayal that led to her contracting the disease which in turn prompts the protagonist of the series, Dr Anya Crichton, to study the psychology of male sporting teams. It’s a topical storyline but tackled intelligently and without the moralising, quick-fix answers that mainstream media devotes to the subject and it reminded me that the best crime fiction always examines some aspect of our society or collective behaviour in addition to telling a jolly good yarn.

Australian-born, Scotland-living Helen Fitzgerald‘s THE DONOR tackles the simple but hideous premise of what a single father is to do when his twin daughters both develop a genetically inherited kidney disease. Perhaps a life of crime wouldn’t be everyone’s choice but hapless Will Marion seems somewhat short of options to save the daughters he loves. The book is both darkly funny and almost unbearably sad but not remotely maudlin which is, I think, a remarkable achievement. The father in this story is a wonderful creation: the type of person you want to slap for being so inept one minute but the next moment you want to wrap him in a giant bear hug for trying so hard.

Sulari Gentill‘s A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is the second novel set in 1930’s Australia to feature world-wandering dilettante Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair and I adored it. Rowly and his friends start the book on board a cruise liner where a grim murder occurs and by the time all the players are in Australia things look very rocky for poor Rowly who unwilling caught up in an odd spiritual movement and may end up being considered an unsuitable role model for the young members of his conservative family. Whenever I talk about this book or its predecessor (something I do as often as I can) I break out in a wide grin as there is something quite joyous about the amusing, life-embracing characters that inhabit Gentill’s world, which is full of sumptuous details of the period. But there is sadness in Rowly’s life too and it’s this juxtaposition with his fun-loving ways that provides the spark of something special to the book. I am lucky enough to have an advanced copy of the third book in the series awaiting my perusal in early January and I am already grinning at the prospect. This book also wins my award for best cover of the year.

LINE OF SIGHT by David Whish-Wilson is another superb debut, this time set in Perth in Western Australia. It is a fictionalised account of the real life murder of a local brothel owner in the 1970’s and focuses on the struggle by one good cop to uncover the truth about the crime which appears to have been perpetrated by his fellow officers. What impressed me most about this book was its perfect capturing of the time and place (it really does feel like another country which is not surprising as the state has flirted with secession more than once). The characters stand out too, especially the man who was charged with heading up a Royal Commission into the case and who slowly came to realise that he’d been set up to find nothing at all. It was a somewhat brutal but entirely credible characterisation and I have thought about Justice Partridge many times since finishing the book.

Did you read any Aussie crime fiction that impressed you in 2011? Do share.

Review: The Donor by Helen Fitzgerald

It’s probably stretching the friendship to discuss this book at Fair Dinkum as Helen Fitzgerald no longer lives in Australia (though she did until she was 23), the book is not set here and it only borders on being crime fiction (sitting more comfortably in the comic/noir/suspense category if there were such a thing). But I liked it a lot so decided it fit within our flexible guidelines.

The Donor has a simple, though hideous, premise. Will Marion’s twin teenage daughters, Georgie and Kay, both develop a rare genetically inherited kidney disease. They will die without each having a transplant and Will is desperate for a solution but what is the right one? Should he find their mother? Try his parents? Donate one of his own kidneys? But to which daughter? How far would a man go to save his children?

You might think it would be hard to find the humour in dying teenagers and desperate fathers but Fitzgerald makes it look easy as The Donor is full of rich, dark humour. It’s in the depiction of Will as Scotland’s most hapless chap; full of ideas but rarely getting beyond the point of making a list about how he would achieve his latest notion (such as the one he makes detailing the relative merits of different suicide methods). It’s in his choice of temporary relief from his circumstances and the humiliating way he must make his way home afterwards. It’s in the short, clever sentences that you sometimes have to read twice to be sure you’ve gotten all their meaning. I loved, for example, the way we learned about Will becoming a single dad:

“Will was thirty-three when Cynthia went out to the shops”

I just love the way that line conveys so much in so few words.

To counterbalance the humour there is a vein of almost (but not quite) unbearable sadness that undoubtedly draws in part on Fitzgerald’s experience as probation and parole worker. As the most heavily fleshed-out character Will himself is both sad and funny at different points in the novel and as a reader I moved from mild annoyance at his lack of oomph to being wholly in his corner and willing him to success (whatever that might look like). But his wife, the girls’ mother, is just sad from start to finish, though very credibly drawn as a person whose entire life is consumed by addiction. The girls themselves are equally believable; displaying the mixture of childish and adult emotions that any 16-year old would do, never mind one who is facing such a gloomy future.

I read the book in a single afternoon which is due in equal parts to its short (at least these days) length of around 60,000 words and the compelling nature of the story. The very ordinariness of the people and their situation is easy (and therefore terrifying) to identify with and you can’t help but turn one more page to find out what will happen.  The presence of a vaguely surreal sense of humour throughout saves the book from being anywhere near the maudlin, ‘misery-lit’ category so popular in some literary circles. Highly recommended.

There’s a guest review of one of Helen Fitzgerald’s earlier novels, Dead Lovely, at Fair Dinkum

My rating: 4/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Faber and Faber [2011]
ISBN: 9780571254378
Length: 309 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: borrowed from the library

DEAD LOVELY, Helen Fitzgerald

This review was originally posted on DJ’s Krimiblog in October 2009.
We thank Dorte for her kind permision to republish it here.

This thriller is the author´s debut. Helen Fitzgerald grew up in Australia, but has made her career as a writer in Glasgow.

As the bait quotation shows, we are told on the very first page that Krissie, the main character, cheats on her best friend and eventually kills her. Their friendship started to go wrong when Sarah wanted a child badly, and Krissie got pregnant by accident. As you may have guessed by now, the friends are very different: Sarah is the cautious little housewife, Krissie experiments with this and that, and is hardly ready to settle down with a baby.

And after this introduction, the question why Krissie killed her friend is answered over three hundred pages told by a handful of different characters who are clearly on collision course. This grizzly murder should not be funny, nevertheless it is.

A fast read, but refreshing and quite entertaining. Should I call it light noir, or noir light?