He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

Let’s twist again…

🙂 🙂 😐

Laura and Kit are newly in love. Kit is an eclipse-chaser, travelling the world to experience full solar eclipses as often as he can. So they’ve gone together to a festival at Lizard’s Point in Cornwall to witness the 1999 eclipse – Laura’s first. Still on a high following this semi-mystical experience, as they make their way back to the festival site Laura comes across two people who at first she thinks are making love. But then she sees the girl’s face, frozen in shock, and reassesses what it is she’s actually seeing. Now she’s going to be the major witness in a rape trial. Fifteen years later, Laura and Kit are still together, awaiting the birth of their twins, but hiding from the world. The book tells the story of how the events after the eclipse have led them to this…

The beginning of the book is excellent, with a very realistic portrayal of an attack and subsequent trial where the whole thing hinges on the matter of consent. Jamie, the man accused of raping Beth, comes from a wealthy, respectable family who can afford the best lawyers. He said she gave consent/she said she didn’t. It’s up to the jury to decide, and Laura is the only witness who can give them an independent account of what she saw.

Kelly writes very well, even when she’s using my pet hate first person, present tense for the parts of the book relating to the present day. Laura tells most of the story, both of what happened back in 1999 and now, while we also hear Kit’s point of view on the present day events. Kelly shows how difficult these cases are by letting us see everything Laura saw and yet leaving some small area of doubt as to whether Laura has interpreted it correctly. She shows not only that we bring our own beliefs and prejudices to things we witness, but also how a good lawyer can chip away at a witness until doubt creeps into even the witness’s own mind, much less the jury’s.

Unfortunately, the book also follows many of the on-going identikit features of the domestic thriller that drive me crazy: skipping between past and present, multiple points of view, the aforesaid present tense – the full ticklist. Worse, it’s another one of those where the narrators know all kind of stuff which they carefully conceal from the reader in an attempt to build false suspense. Some dreadful incident or incidents have happened in the intervening years, changing the course of Laura’s life and leaving her suffering from extreme anxiety. But we don’t learn what until nearly two-thirds of the way through, by which time I was so annoyed I didn’t care any more. It’s a pity, because there is a suspenseful element as to how the story is going to play out which would have been sufficient, so it really wasn’t necessary to clumsily withhold stuff that had already happened.

Erin Kelly

Having said that, when the book finally reaches the point of beginning to reveal all, it becomes progressively less credible with each passing twist. And my, there are a lot of them! Too many. And the final couple are so silly and pointless they take away the last shreds of realism, leaving me sad that a book that began as something thoughtful and well-written ended up like every other trashy domestic thriller of the last five years. Oh well, no doubt this trend will end one day – can’t come soon enough for my liking. I’d like to see writers of the undoubted quality of Erin Kelly produce something with a little more heft and originality and less reliance on false suspense and incredible twists. As these things go, though, this is as good as most and better than many, which I’m afraid is as much praise as I can give it.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.

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43 thoughts on “He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly

  1. Sorry this one was a bit of a disappointment, FictionFan. I keep hearing good things about it, and was wondering how much was just the hype. Hmm……I know just what you mean about that ‘checklist,’ too. I do like Erin Kelly’s writing style, but perhaps this one will wait…

    • I’m sure mostly it’s just down to how fed up I am with this type of book, Margot, but I was disappointed at how it developed into standard domestic thriller mode. She’s definitely one of the more talented writers around just now, though, so I’m hoping she’ll do something different next time… 🙂

  2. I still haven’t gotten around to reading this one. There was such a hype around it at the start that it made me a bit wary. Great review! I will read it since I bought it but I may wait a while. It’s not like I don’t have anything else to keep me occupied.

    • Yeah, I should really know to avoid books that are getting a lot of hype – I’m so off this type of book at the moment I should know better. But I read her last book, The Ties That Bind, and loved it, so either it was different in style or else I hadn’t reached my current stage of fed-up-ness then. She is an excellent writer though, so I’ll be keeping an eye on her and hoping she veers away from this style soon…

    • It’s the desire to fit every book into this domestic thriller style that kills them for me – this one had lots of interesting things to say at the beginning and she said them well. But then…

  3. Great review! When I first discovered this book, I saw nothing but amazing reviews, as time has gone on, I’ve notice a few similar reviews to yours. With so many books on my TBR, I can give this one a miss without feeling like I’m missing out 🙂

    • Thank you! The problem with books like this is that I’m so fed up with the whole domestic thriller thing that I’m reluctant to put other people off. This is a good one of what it is – it’s just that what it is doesn’t work for me any more sadly! But I seem to be noticing that I’m not alone – more and more people seem to be getting fed up with all these books that are written to a ticklist… oh, well!

  4. Well, I haven’t read this one, and now I won’t have to!! It’s such a shame when a book starts out wonderfully, then seems to fall apart at the midway point. Many authors redeem themselves and craft a memorable ending; this one, however, seems to only go downhill. Sorry it wasn’t a better read for you, FF.

    • The thing is that loads of people enjoy these twist-after-twist endings, so the ending of this one probably works for them. But I always have problems with books that ask me to suspend my disbelief too much. Pity, because she’s actually an excellent writer – hopefully she’ll move away from the domestic thriller soon… 🙂

  5. I haven’t read this one (and usually I think that Erin Kelly writes well), but I am so with you on the far too many twists front and carefully avoiding relevant disclosures merely to heighten suspense artificially. I’ve read a few of those lately and it just annoys me. They do seem to be using the cookie cutter approach. Having said that, I did find The Poison Tree and The Burning Air by the same author very compelling, but I’ve not been tempted by this (I read a sample of it).

    • I loved her last book, The Ties That Bind, and now can’t remember whether it was very different in style or whether I maybe just wasn’t as fed up with this type of book back when I read it. But I do think she’s one of the best writers around at the moment in terms of quality of prose, so hopefully (from my point of view) she’ll move away from the standard domestic thriller format and use her talents better doing something that feels a bit fresher. The witholding info thing drives me crazy and more and more of them are doing it now… grrrr!!

    • Haha! I know – loads of people love this kind of thing, but I’m sooooo tired of them! Whenever I see a girl in a red jacket on a cover, I scream… 😉 But seriously, this is probably one of the better domestic thrillers, so I suspect you’d enjoy it – go for it, I say!

  6. I have wanted to read books by Erin Kelly for quite some time and actually own several. OK, I will admit that some of the current ‘trends’ are beginning to get tiresome for me. That being said, I keep picking up the books and reading them and also ‘picking apart’ the stories. I can usually discern the end – whether it’s a murder inquiry or whatnot. And, honestly, that’s the fun part for me. I know that some don’t like being able to figure things out. I do. So, as I already have a copy of this one, I will indeed read it. I suspect the ‘trend’ of the ‘twists’ and such will wane after a time, though part of the issue is that the rest of the world (the ones who don’t read as much as we do) is still on board. And then there’s the movie or TV adaptations. Wonder what will come next – trend wise? Have any guesses?

    • I loved her last book, The Ties That Bind, and can’t remember now if her style was very different in it or if I maybe just wasn’t as fed up with this type of book back then. I’ve really reached a point where I more or less avoid anything that could be described as “domestic thriller”, but this one slipped past my radar because I like her writing. And it is well written, so I’m sure people who enjoy this type of book will like this one a lot. But too many twists for definite! Ha! I don’t know what the next trend will be, but I’m hoping it involves third person, past tense, single time period narratives… is that too much to ask?? 😉

  7. I now almost automatically avoid books in the present tense – I say almost because sometimes (only sometimes) I hardly notice the tense and I can’t put my finger on why that is. So I’m not tempted by this one.

    • Me too, and I really wish NetGalley would provide a short sample so you could know in advance whether it’s present or past, and first or third person. Many of the books I end up being negative about I wouldn’t have taken if I could have read the first few pages before deciding. But I agree – sometimes it works depending, I think, on the skill of the writer. Actually it didn’t bother me too much in this one – it was all the silly twists at the end and the withholding of information from the reader that bugged me most. Oh well! She’s still an excellent writer and hopefully she’ll move away from the domestic thriller style soon…

  8. I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you. I did think that a great many good points were made, as you pointed out at the start of your review, although if pushed I’d say it would have just as good without some of the latter twists.

    • I’m just so fed up with this style now, but I agree – the first section about the rape and the trial were excellent. Partly it’s when I rate an author as highly as I do Erin Kelly that I get most disappointed, because I thought she was creating something great at the beginning and saw no real need for it to go into that kind of twist frenzy at the end. But I’ll still be looking out for her future books – haha! She might not be thrilled at that idea though… 😉

  9. Fantastic review! It’s been so interesting to read the widely varying reviews for this one. I wonder if I would have the same issues as you did based on what you said but then I’m super curious about the trial etc. I have to agree completely that I wish net galley would provide short samples of just the first 2 pages…I would’ve passed on many I ended up requesting!

    • Thanks, Renee! I’m really off this genre these days so I wouldn’t be completely put off by my opinion – other people are loving this one, and I hope you do to if you read it. Yes, samples would be fab, and I think would work for the publishers too since they’d end up with fewer negative reviews – I think I’m going to start suggesting it in my feedback…

  10. This is the first less than stellar review I have seen for this one. Super helpful and insightful as I plan to read but now will maybe go in with some lowered expectations. Hoping that will help my experience if I get to this one 🙂

    • Thank you! I’m glad you found it useful, but please don’t be put off by my opinion – I’m really ‘off’ this genre at the moment. Most of the reviews I’ve seen have been glowing too, with just the occasional grumpy one like mine… 😉

  11. I know I’ve said it before, but when the first-person present-tense narrator holds back information, it’s as if he/she KNOWS there is an audience, or the authors suggests that he/she is so traumatized by the events that even THINKING about them is impossible. It just doesn’t work in most cases.

    I will say, having been in jury selection (not even on the jury yet!) the lawyers will chip away at your credibility pretty fast.

    • Yes, completely agree – it’s so false, and I do think it shows a good deal of laziness on the part of authors. Their job is surely to make the fictional credible, and the idea of someone telling you a story while missing out all the important bits – well, it’s just pretty bad trickery really. They wouldn’t do well as stage magicians!

      Ooh, I hope you get an exciting case! I’ve only been on a jury once and the guy changed his plea to guilty half way through, spoiling all my fun… 😉

      • It was really…uncomfortable. It was a high school girl who claimed her step-father had molested her. I tend to believe sexual assault victims outright, but in her case she didn’t tell anyone, her behavior never changed, her grades didn’t suffer….NOTHING. The judge had very carefully lectured potential jurors about how real court is nothing like on TV and there has to be evidence beyond reasonable doubt ONLY for the SPECIFIC charge brought against the person. I mean, it’s way more detailed than I thought, and I now know why so many people who seem guilty are found not guilty. One of the lawyers badgered me when they were trying to figure out whether or not to pick me for the jury, saying if my purse was stolen, wouldn’t I want someone to believe me. She said, “What if you had no proof your purse was stolen?” I said, “Some dude would have my purse.” They dismissed me.

        • We don’t go through such a rigorous selection process – at least we didn’t back when I was called, which must be thirty years or so ago. I’m not sure whether your system or ours works better. I know I’m always amazed at how much info your media reports about cases before they make it to trial. Over here we have very strict laws about how much can be discussed, so that the jury can theoretically go into it uninfluenced by anything they may have seen or read. Of course, that only affects mainstream media – the internet tries and convicts on no eveidence at all!

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