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Women! Tchah! How many times did your mother tell you never to go off with strange men? Even if they happen to have deep blue eyes and an adorable little dimple in one cheek? (Tempting, I admit…) But Jessica is feeling fed up with life and the man she has just met in a store café seems so much more…well…gorgeous than most of the men she meets, and certainly more exciting than her rather dull boyfriend. So when Dominic invites her back to his flat for a drink, she throws caution to the wind. A big mistake! Because far from one drink, Dominic expects her to stay for all Twelve Days of Christmas, even if that means chaining her to the radiator…
This is a jolly little Christmas story, full of torture, cruelty, manipulation and twisted minds. And one of the most twisted minds at play is the author’s – she keeps that plot churning like a tumble-dryer on high. It’s essential to check your disbelief at the door to enjoy this, and then just go along for the ride. At the beginning it feels as if the book is going to be a traditional psychopath-tortures-girl scenario, but gradually you realise there’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feel to it. It’s actually very cleverly done – although the action becomes progressively more horrific and even gruesome, the tone stays fairly light throughout. It took me a while to see how Cohen was achieving this, but I think it’s because the main part of the narrative comes to us as a first person (past tense) account from Jessica, and even at the darkest parts, she often gives a little aside that pushes the horror over into humour.
Every day, Dominic presents Jessica with a beautifully wrapped gift, each of which represents something from his past. As he tells her the story to go along with each one, we gradually see just how warped he is, but we also learn some things that might explain some part of why he’s turned out that way. But to complicate matters, Jessica is a bit nuts too – she’s always been something of a social misfit, perhaps due to her unfortunate tendency to hear mysterious voices in her head. And every day the tension ramps up, and Dominic’s treatment of Jessica becomes a little more extreme…
The other strand of the book is the investigation, which we see in the third person from the viewpoint of Kim, whose own family life is on the point of breakdown. This aspect felt a little clichéd to me, I must admit – the woman torn between work and children. However, like the other characters, Kim is very well drawn, and these sections provide breaks from the escalating events in the flat.
The plot becomes progressively less credible as it goes on and, by the end, it approaches farce – but quite intentionally, I think. I felt the book took a slight dip in the middle – perhaps it would have been tighter if the Days of Christmas could have been six or seven instead of twelve – but the first and last thirds rocketed along. Despite the dark subject matter, it’s all a bit of a romp really – a psychopath book for people who don’t like psychopath books, maybe. The characterisation is excellent – either Dominic or Jessica could have tipped over into unbelievability, but Cohen keeps them feeling more or less real. And the writing flows effortlessly, carrying the reader along even when the story is at its most incredible. My first introduction to Tammy Cohen, and a thoroughly enjoyable one – what one should I read next, Cohen fans?
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.
Thanks to Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books, whose great review first drew this one to my attention – click here to read it.