No Escape by N J Cooper

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No Escape by N J Cooper

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A well worked mix of psychology and crime which does get a little unrealistic at points, but always provides the reader with a decent story.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 978-1847394224

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I've long had an interest in psychology, particularly abnormal psychology. The mind is a fascinating thing, but it has far more spectacular effects when things go wrong. The same is true of crime thrillers, which are a lot more entertaining when things don't work out too well for the police. So a combination of abnormal psychology and crime thriller was always going to appeal to me.

Karen Taylor is a psychologist working on a paper on Dangerous Severe Personality Disorder, which she believes may cause people to commit violent crimes. As part of her research, she has returned to the Isle of Wight where she spent may happy family holidays as a child, to interview Spike Falconer. Spike is a local man, convicted of the murder of a family of tourists and sentenced to life imprisonment in the island's Parkhurst prison.

Karen has to confront her own memories, both of her childhood on the island and in her more recent history. Trying to solve Spike's case, she is treated with suspicion by some of the islanders and with outright hostility by others. Only one member of the island's police is pleased to see her, as he thinks Karen can not only get Spike to admit his guilt for the murder he's been convicted of, but also several unsolved murders. The rest, however, are less welcoming and quick to make Karen a scapegoat when anything goes wrong.

N. J. Cooper is a writer who seems to enjoy life inside her characters' heads as much as she does out of it. Virtually every situation has an emotional or psychological undercurrent, whether it's an emotion as simple as fear or an indicator of some deeper psychological trauma. Unusually, she's also very descriptive at the same time, so there is a lot of colour and visual imagery, allowing the writer to see the scene as well as to feel it. Many writers offer one or the other, but it's rare to find a writer who allows the reader to map a mind and a location at once.

If there is one weakness here, it's in the characters themselves. A couple of characters appear briefly for no apparent reason, which left me wondering exactly what the point of them was. For the major characters, most of them have some interesting psychological quirks or something buried deep in their psyche that affects their actions. It seems that no-one in the story does anything for no reason at all, which was interesting, but didn't seem entirely realistic. Given that the basic psychological background for the story was generally well done, it did seem that this was stretching the point a little too far.

On the other hand, this does make things a little more interesting as it adds to the back-story and means that virtually everything is related to the plot and not a word is wasted. However, it does also mean that there isn't a great deal of room for levity. It's a decent enough story, but it's always very serious and even when the characters manage to break away from the business at hand and relax, events catch up with them and it's all serious once again.

In the end, though, the aspects of the story I was most fascinated with proved to be greater than the minor distractions that the negative points provided. The psychological aspects felt real, if a little overbearing at some points and even when events became a little too crowded for comfort. N J Cooper is a fine writer and has enough insight into the human mind to add something a little extra to your average crime novel. It's a decent story and a slightly more interesting read than many in the genre and this makes it well worth a look.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another combination of psychology and crime, try Aifric Campbell's The Semantics of Murder.

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