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A ROOM SWEPT WHITE
by Sophie Hannah
Hodder & Stoughton, August 2010
454 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340980648


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Fliss Benson is a television producer working for Binary Star Productions. She lives in a cheap basement flat and is in love with her boss, Laurie Nattrass, the company's Creative Director, who barely acknowledges her existence, even when he's demanded her presence in his own office.

Laurie Nattrass is a man obsessed with getting justice for women who have been wrongly accused of murdering children, particularly if the medical evidence against them was provided by forensic pathologist Dr Judith Duffy. He's making a documentary on the subject, helped by Helen Yardley, a woman with whom he's co-founded a group dedicated to their cause. Helen was freed from jail after an appeal overturned her conviction, and Dr Judith Duffy is being investigated for misconduct by the GMC.

But the day after Helen Yardley is found murdered in her own home, Laurie hands his 140k a year job, and his documentary, over to Fliss Benson. If that wasn't suspicious enough, someone's sent Fliss a card with sixteen numbers written on it; four rows and four columns. Laurie's been sent one too but he isn't telling. And another one is found on Yardley's body.

DI Simon Waterhouse is one of the detectives assigned to Helen Yardley's case. He too has an obsession with his boss, DI Giles Proust; Simon hates him and expends most of his energy fighting every order and every opinion.

Not to be left out, DI Giles Proust also has an obsession, with Helen Yardley, because he was her arresting officer even if he's never allowed himself to believe her guilt. But the investigation into her death is about to open many old wounds as Simon Waterhouse and Fliss Benson delve into the past to try to find answers to the present.

These characters are the focus of the novel, but there is a large cast of supporting roles, all with their own stories, opinions and agendas, and it's testament to the skill of the author how carefully every side to each story is told and how it becomes clear that there are no black and white answers, that people are complicated, their dealings with one another complex.

While there's a clear view of right and wrong, this novel challenges the reader constantly to question initial impressions and pre-formed prejudices, and to ask where sympathy should lie when everyone is both a victim and a guilty party. This is a book that truly is difficult to put down. It's just a shame that when the final page is reached, there are still too many questions left unanswered, and while this is an expertly written novel, it does make for a somewhat frustrating read.

Madeleine Marsh is an aspiring writer who lives in the South West. She helps run sci-fi conventions and loves modern cinema.

Reviewed by Madeleine Marsh, April 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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