My Last Confession by Helen Fitzgerald

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My Last Confession by Helen Fitzgerald

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Eileen Shaw
Reviewed by Eileen Shaw
Summary: Never was a probation officer given such good press as in this nerve-tingling murder mystery with enough material for a stand-up comedy stint thrown in for good measure. Fast-paced, witty, shocking and engrossing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571239672

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Our narrator is ex-social worker Krissie, mid-twenties, living with Mum and Dad, in love with boyfriend Chas, and proud mother of a sweet little boy, the Robster. Chas loves Krissie and Robbie, and before long they've all moved in together. Coinciding with this, Krissie has got herself a job as a Probation Officer and among her first cases is that of Jeremy Bagshaw, who is heart-breakingly good looking, but accused of the murder of his wife's mother. Amanda, his wife, was adopted but has recently made contact with her real mother, the victim. Jeremy is adamant that his own mother can give him an alibi, but she refuses. They have barely spoken since he was sixteen.

Then Jeremy reveals to Krissie that his childhood was blighted by a terrible event – the killing of a child. Jeremy, four years-old at the time, got up one morning and put his baby sister in the drier, reasoning that mummy wouldn't be cross if baby's nappy was dry. With a history of murder, even given the young age at which it was committed, the police are sure they've got the right man.

This book is awfully bright for the subject matter, rather as if a (quite good) commedienne got a sudden urge to delve into the dark side but didn't manage to leave her airhead personality behind. It grew on me, however, because of the genuinely original touches Fitzgerald brings to her plot and her characterisation. This is the second in her series about Krissie Donald and takes up Krissie's story where her earlier book, Dead Lovely left off, though you don't need to have read that to enjoy this novel.

The pace is spanking, making this an easy read and the convolutions of the plot, though not entirely un-guessable, bring a tension-filled denouement, together with a post-script intended to render one all squishy and gooey.

Helen Fitzgerald writes exuberantly, the humour turned up to full. Krissie is wry, cynical, yet warm-hearted and makes an engaging narrator. The story is perhaps a little too sunshiny, until you begin to understand the personalities involved. It recalled for me Nick Hornby's talent for bringing out the comedy in the tragedies that overtake people, though his style is much more understated and literary. I did baulk at some scenes of horror that were nevertheless presented as funny: a dying man's face splodging down into a plateful of mashed potatoes is a case in point. One hardly knows whether to laugh or cry. When it comes to the crunch, however, this strangely charming murder story is bright, not light and takes the genre into largely uncharted territory, as Krissie decides she will solve the puzzle of who really murdered Amanda's mother.

Our thanks go to Faber and Faber for sending this book for review.

Further Reading: if you haven't already read it, try Dead Lovely, the first of the Krissie Donald novels. You might also like When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. For a slightly more politically loaded thriller/comedy, try Will Ashon's The Heritage.

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