I love novels that feature morally dubious characters — and Helen FitzGerald's latest novel, The Cry, slots very nicely into that category. I've read a couple of Fitzgerald's novels before — Dead Lovely (2007) and My Last Confession (2009) — and both were edgy, entertaining reads featuring well-meaning people behaving in abhorrent ways. The Cry is cut from the same cloth.
Plane ride from hell
Joanna is a first-time mother from Glasgow, bound for Australia with Alistair — the father of her child — a high-powered spin doctor for the British Labour Party. But the flight to Melbourne, via Dubai, is traumatic: nine-week-old Noah cries the whole way and won't settle.
Joanna, who is suffering from an ear-infection, is frazzled and ill-tempered. But then Alistair steps in and offers to nurse the child, so that Joanna can finally get some much-needed rest.
When the trio eventually arrive in Australia, Noah is fast asleep. They dare not wake him, and decide to drive straight to Alistair's mum's place, in Geelong, despite the fact that it's bushfire season and the sky is awash with ash and black smoke.
But on the car journey Joanna makes a fateful discovery: Noah is not asleep — he's dead.
What happens next is a heart-hammering psychological ride in which one bad decision follows another, because instead of going to the police or calling an ambulance, Alistair decides to engineer Noah's disappearance from a roadside petrol station.
The plot borrows heavily from all manner of missing children cases — Azaria Chamberlain immediately springs to mind, as does Madeleine McCann — particularly in the ensuing media coverage (including Twitter and Facebook) and the way in which Joanna is expected to behave in court. (She's told not to fidget and has to remind herself not to smile — "Don't smile, don't smile, remember Foxy Knoxy, remember Lindy.")
And because truth is often stranger than fiction — how many parents do we see on the news protesting their innocence, only to be arrested for murder at a later date? — the storyline never seems over the top even though Alistair's actions are repugnant. Indeed, the entire plot seems incredibly believable — and current.
It is also very fast moving. FitzGerald keeps the momentum up in several clever ways: she makes grief-stricken Joanna want to confess to the crime, so the reader is constantly wondering, will she or won't she; she provides an interesting back story in the form of Alistair's ex-wife, who is fighting over the custody of their teenage daughter and may possibly be framed for Noah's murder; and she tells the story from multiple viewpoints and intercuts it with short scenes from the resulting court case.
I read the entire book in three sittings, eager to get to the end so that I could find out what happened next. And while it's not a completely satisfying read — the climax, which has a neat little twist, didn't seem convincing to me — it's a thoroughly good psychological-type drama, perfect for those who like stories that explore why normally good people end up doing bad things.