The fifth psychological thriller from Sophie Hannah, titled A Room Swept White, is an unsettling read. As a mum, the thought of first losing a child to cot death is bad enough. But then to be charged with their murder, it really doesn’t bear thinking about.
Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines are three women, all charged with the unthinkable – the murder of their children. Following revelations that the doctor whose testimony helped to convict these women is under investigation for misconduct, their convictions are overturned and the women are all released.
Fliss Benson is a struggling television producer who is given the unenviable task of producing a documentary about their cases, following the abrupt resignation of her boss. A documentary about cot death and the three women wrongfully charged with the murders of their children is bound to make for riveting viewing. But Fliss has her own reasons – very personal reasons – for not wanting to be involved in this project.
As Fliss struggles to come to terms with the fact that she will produce this documentary irrespective of her own wishes (and this has a lot to do with her irrational feelings for her former boss) , she receives an anonymous card in the post. A plain card, with four rows of four numbers – numbers that mean nothing to Fliss. Until another card shows up with the same four rows of four numbers – this time the card is in the pocket of Helen Yardley who has been murdered in her home.
Is there a connection?
For reasons unclear to the reader Fliss is decidedly uncooperative with the police who are investigating the murder. And she suddenly has a driving passion to do the show, and has managed to get one of the other women, Rachel Hines, on board. As Fliss delves deeper into the lives of these women it seems she might be in danger herself, or at the very least might just get to the bottom of things before the police do.
Readers of Sophie Hannah’s previous novels will recognise the police officers investigating Helen Yardley’s murder. Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, Giles Proust and Sam Kombothekra are all there. I must admit I was looking forward to the relationship between Charlie and Simon developing after the last book I read with them – but no joy, they are as emotionally inept as ever.
Although a riveting story, there is so much going on in this book it is sometimes hard to keep up with it all. With lots of interconnected stories, shared histories and conflicting loyalties between numerous characters; and plenty of lines being blurred between professional and personal accountability, you feel as though you are being swept along wildly at times.
But this is really what makes this story a great, totally engrossing read. You need to keep going to be able to keep up – if you want to stand a chance at putting all the pieces together you can’t stop, not to eat, not to sleep, not until every last page is read!
Available now: Hachette RRP$32.99