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…