House of Correction by Nicci French

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House of Correction by Nicci French

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A young woman is accused of murder and decides to defend herself in court. An exceptionally-good read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: September 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1471179273

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When we first meet Tabitha Hardy, she's in prison, on remand. She's sharing a cell with Michaela, who's more caring than she first appears. She delivers tough love and gets Tabitha eating and drinking - and encourages her to have a shower, unpleasant as the whole processes might be. And how did Tabitha get here? Well, on 21 December the body of Stuart Robert Rees was discovered in her garden shed by Andrew Kane, who was helping with the renovations to Tabitha's house. So far as the police are concerned, Tabitha is the only person who could have killed Rees - and when they arrived at her house she was covered in his blood.

You need to know two things about Tabitha: she's suffered from depression and regularly has depressive episodes. Unless you've been there you just don't know how debilitating they can be. The other thing is that she's a fighter: she has a rough idea of what her rights are and, frankly, she doesn't care who she upsets to get what she needs. Her lawyer, Mora Piozzi, thinks that Tabitha should plead guilty to manslaughter or not guilty to murder on the grounds of diminished responsibility because there's something that Tabitha didn't tell the police or her lawyer. Someone sent an anonymous letter to the police about the fact that Tabitha had a sexual relationship with Rees when she was fifteen. He was her maths teacher. Now the police believe that they have the motive.

So, what do you do when your lawyer makes a recommendation like that? Well, if you're Tabitha, you sack your lawyer and decide that you're going to defend yourself. Well, what could go wrong?

Tabitha's just returned to the village of Okeham. She left in her teens but an inheritance has given her the opportunity to buy and renovate a house that she always admired as a child. If it doesn't work out she can let the property or sell it, but she's keen to put her childhood behind her and see if she can make a go of it. It seems to be going OK-ish until Rees's murder when she realises just how isolated she is and that she has no support network. Everyone she thought might help her is going to be a witness for the prosecution - even Andy, who was the only person she thought of as a friend.

Essentially the story is a closed-room murder mystery. A fallen tree cut the village off from the outside world for most of the day that Rees was murdered. There are ten possible suspects and even Tabitha admits that she's the one who looks most likely to be the murderer. Forget about motive - she's about the only person who could have got to the house without going past the village shop's CCTV.

Tabitha can be extremely annoying. As you read you'll find her frustrating. She makes no effort to ingratiate herself to anyone. Sometimes you'll feel cross with her and think that there's a better way of going about her defence, but she's facing a mandatory life term, which could mean at least fifteen years in prison and if she can only avoid that by fighting tooth and nail, then that's what she's going to do.

I came to House of Correction via The Lying Room. Could this book be as good as that one? Yes, it could. There are similarities: a woman put in a near-impossible situation fighting for what she holds dear, but this is no psychological-thriller-by-numbers. The court scenes are brilliant: you'll learn a great deal about defending yourself should the need ever arise and you'll feel as though you're there in the courtroom.

Did I spot the ending before it arrived? I was nowhere near.

There's a real talent for characterisation, too. I've read books with a much shorter cast list but still struggled to remember who was who: here every one of the characters comes off the page as a fully-formed individual - and you care about them. This is an exceptionally good read and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you're looking for something of similar quality, you might enjoy The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce. You could try Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little but House of Correction is decidedly the better book.

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