White Bodies by Jane Robins

Twin souls…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Callie and Tilda are twins but are very unlike each other. Tilda is beautiful with a kind of fragile quality that brings out the protective instinct in Callie as well as in many of the men she meets. She’s a young actress with one hugely successful role behind her and the prospect of a glittering career ahead. Callie is quieter, always having felt herself somewhat in Tilda’s shadow, though she loves her sister devotedly – too devotedly, perhaps. So when Tilda introduces Callie to her new boyfriend, Felix, Callie is quick to start worrying that Felix seems to exert an unhealthy hold over Tilda. And soon she’s seeking advice from an online forum set up by victims of controlling men…

I have loved Jane Robins’ true crime writing in the past, so was intrigued when I heard she was bringing out her first crime fiction novel. I knew the writing would be excellent – and it is – but how would she do on plotting and characterisation? Factual and fiction writing are two very beasts, after all. I’m delighted to say I needn’t have worried – Robins has given us a well above average psychological thriller that flows so smoothly I read it in a couple of lengthy sittings, unwilling to put it down.

It’s told in my pet hate first person, present tense, but since that seems to be obligatory in this genre, I took a deep breath and tried to ignore it. At least Robins does it well, unlike many of the dreadfully clunky books I’ve shuddered over in recent years. Callie is either a totally reliable narrator in which case we should be deeply worried about Tilda; or else Callie is nuts… in which case we should still be deeply worried about Tilda! The joy in the characterisation is that it’s not at all clear till very late on – I found myself swaying back and forwards, sometimes thinking Callie’s fears were well founded and then wondering if in fact she’d got the whole thing wrong. Because we see Tilda and Felix through Callie’s eyes, we can’t be sure how accurate the portrayal of either of them is, all of which allows for a lovely sense of unease to build up.

I’m going to admit there’s nothing very original in the plot and I had a good idea where we were headed from a fairly early point. In part, this is because there’s yet another of these prologues that tells you what’s going to happen much later in the book, but mainly it’s because both the blurb and the early chapters make a direct reference to a book and film famous for a particular plot point. I appreciated that Robins acknowledged her debt to that book and film, but personally think it would have been more suspenseful if the acknowledgement had been made in an afterword. However, the book has its own twists that stop it from being too similar, and despite feeling that I knew the destination, I still enjoyed the journey.

Mostly, this is because of Callie. It’s a fascinating study of a woman who has always been outshone by her twin, and although her behaviour is more than odd on occasion, I found her strangely likeable. Robins uses a lot of subtlety in showing us that Callie’s own perception of herself is different from other people’s – not easy to do in the first person. I found myself hoping more and more that somehow she would find a happy ending and I think my interest was mostly in finding out what happened to her than in the plot regarding Tilda and Felix, in truth. *TBR alert* Book people will enjoy that Callie works in a bookshop and has a love for contemporary crime fiction, so there are lots of mentions of authors and books that the reader may have read or will probably end up wanting to read.

Jane Robins

Even though the book has some of the elements that have put me off this genre – present tense, the prologue, etc. – I thoroughly enjoyed it because of the quality of the writing and characterisation. It’s not an angst-filled tale of woe despite the subject matter – in fact, there’s a reasonable amount of humour in it and even a nice, rather under-stated little romance in the background. In that sense, though the storyline is very contemporary, it feels more like an old-style psychological thriller than the modern misery-fest domestic thriller. And is all the better for that, in my opinion! A strong début, and I look forward to seeing where Robins takes me next…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Touchstone.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Quiz for the day: Why is it called White Bodies? I have no idea. Answers below, please…

32 thoughts on “White Bodies by Jane Robins

  1. Very glad you enjoyed this one, FictionFan. In general, I agree with you, both about first person, present tense, and about the sort of prologue you describe. But sometimes they can work well in the right hands. And I’m glad that they’re done well enough here that you were drawn in and cared about the story and about the characters. I have to say, too, how glad I am to hear that this isn’t a misery-fest; you do see that a lot in this sort of novel and I get my fill of it.

    • Yes, the FPPT thing definitely depends on the skill of the writer, but these prologues are driving me crazy. They take away so much of the suspense. However, this was a very good debut overall – I wonder if she’ll stay with fiction or do more true crime. I’m not sure which I’d prefer her to do actually – both!!

  2. This sounds very good! If only it wasn’t in the dreaded FPPT it may have got one more star, hmm? It is nice to see that not all psychological thrillers have to been misery-laden. I am hoping that no children suffered and no one changed sex half way through? I don’t mind admitting that I am very curious as to what happens to Callie… 🙂

  3. I guess I’m one of those weird people who don’t mind first person present tense. In moderation of course.

    Your review makes a fascinating argument in favor of me reading this book!

    • I can tolerate it if it’s well done and appropriate for the story, as it kinda was here, but so often it just feels clunky and off. Definitely worth reading if you ever manage to fit it in! 😀

  4. It’s strange but I’m finding the dreaded first person, present tense isn’t annoying me as much these days. As you say it seems to be obligatory in this genre. I’ve only scan read your review and not the spoiler – thanks for indicating it was there – as I’ve got a copy of this book too. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • I’m afraid my heart sinks every time I see it – I’ve actually abandoned a couple of books this year on that ground alone. And it’s a major reason I’m reading so little contemporary crime fiction at the moment. Oh, I hope you enjoy it – I think you probably will! 😀

    • Haha – there’s always room for one more! And this one isn’t hugely long! 😀 These prologues are becoming more and more common at the moment and they drive me crazy! Who wants to know about something that doesn’t happen till half way through the story?? Grrrr!!!

    • Haha – I found I was constantly thinking, oh, I must read that one, etc. Very dangerous! Yes. that makes sense. I hadn’t considered it, but you’re right – lots of people don’t read afterwords. It did take a good deal of the suspense away though, especially since it’s such a well-known book/film.

  5. I’m another one who doesn’t like first person present tense. That said, maybe I could get past my dislike since you obviously have and enjoyed this book. Great review, but I have no clue how the title fits in!

    • I wanted to read this one because I’d read her true crime stuff, but I admit my heart sank when I saw the first person present tense. However she handled it better than a lot of writers do, so I enjoyed it despite that! Ha – it’s odd, but after I’d finished I realised I had no idea why it’s called that… maybe I missed something…

    • I think it’s crazy – it puts so many people off before they even begin, and yet I’ve never once heard anyway say – oh no, third person past tense! Clearly all these authors should read the comments on my blog before they start writing… 😉

  6. you know, I never realized it until you mentioned it, but I’m not a huge fan of the first person perspective either, it feel like the author is ‘copping out’ because it’s so easy to create the whole ‘unreliable narrator’ schtick that we are seeing so much of lately. But, like you I can get past it, if the writing is good. Glad you took on a chance on this one!

    • Yes, that’s exactly right, though I hadn’t realised it quite so clearly! It also bugs me because it gives such a restricted view – we only get to see what the narrator sees, whereas with third person we can follow multiple strands. But the present tense annoys me even more, unless the writer is really skilled at it, and fortunately Robins is… 🙂

    • I prefer the slightly more old-fashioned feel. Not that the story isn’t contemporary, but just the way she presents the characters etc. It’ll be fun to see what she does next… 🙂

    • So far nobody has come up with an answer. I tried googling but drew a blank – I must be the only person who’s wondering! Which either means I’m spectacularly insightful or that I’m so dimwitted I completely missed it… hmm! I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that… 😉

  7. I immediately agreed that the acknowledgement of the book/film that inspired this book should be at the end, but then I remembered that Goodreads can be a very mean place. One thing fans cling to is if a book has already been “done” or not. For instance, a woman who was in my MFA program rewrote a fairy tale and got the novel published. It was commercially successful. She wrote another, this time about Cinderella, but as a steam-punk inventor with no interest in the ball. People screamed that she ripped off another Cinderella remake in which Cinderella was a cyborg. The concept isn’t even the same, but readers sure were frothing at the mouth. The unfortunate bit is the woman I went to school with wrote her novel and signed a contract first, but the other book had been published faster/first.

    Had Robins put the acknowledgement at the end, I wonder if some folks would have quit reading because they felt Robins’s novel was a “rip off” of another story.

    • Yes, that is a good point and one I hadn’t considered till you and Liz mentioned it. I might even have been saying it was a rip-off myself! In fact, now I’m thinking maybe it is a bit too much of a rip-off – does acknowledging it make it OK? Hmm! But in reality I felt she made it different enough so that I wasn’t feeling that while I read it. Maybe she should have waited till she got to that point in the plot and then acknowledged it – it wouldn’t have felt so much like a spoiler that way. I noticed they’ve taken the reference out of the blurb on Amazon, but it’s still there on Goodreads.

  8. I am curious about the title. I hope that you will find the answers. I don’t usually mind FPPT. I guess writers use it as a way to get readers more drawn to the story. I know, I used to use it a lot when writing short stories to make the narrative more realistic lol. Not sure if that makes sense.
    This sounds like an interesting read despite the issues. I am interesting in reading this author especially because of what you said about her writing.

    • So far, no-one has come up with a reason. I may have to tweet the author! I know a lot of people think FPPT give the thing more ‘immediacy’ but I’m afraid I don’t – I think it nearly always sounds false. Just a matter of taste, I suppose. 🙂 But despite that, this is a good one – she writes very well. If you get a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

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