This is an absolutely brilliant novel. I've read all Sophie Hannah's earlier ones and enjoyed them all, some more than others, but this one I think is unquestionably her best yet, and that's saying something. Her great talent is her ability to set up the most extraordinary, impossible situations and then slowly reveal how they can in fact be solved, and this one -- best described as a psychological thriller -- is no exception.
The central character here is one Amber Hewerdine, a young woman in her thirties. As the novel begins, she is consulting a hypnotherapist -- very much a last resort -- in an attempt to cure her chronic insomnia. Highly intelligent and extremely sceptical, Amber is very dubious about trying hypnosis, and the chapter in which the reader is privy to her thoughts as the therapist starts to try to put her under is wonderfully done. Amber thinks she has not succumbed, but then she suddenly finds herself saying some apparently irrational words -- "Kind -- Cruel -- Kind of Cruel". She has no idea where they came from or what they mean,and though she seems to have a memory of seeing them written down somewhere she cannot recollect when, where, or in what context.
And so the story progresses, with more and more apparently unrelated mysteries spiraling off in all directions, and Amber somehow being connected with all of them. There's the bizarre Christmas day nearly a decade ago when Amber's sister-in-law suddenly disappeared from the country house they were sharing, taking her husband and children with her, and reappeared a day later, never referring to the incident again. Then there's the unexplained recent murder, in which those same words (Kind - Cruel...) were found to have been written in a notebook in the murdered woman's flat. Then there's the death by fire of Amber's best friend, whose two children now live with Amber and her husband Luke. And all of this is being investigated by DI Simon Waterhouse, unofficially helped by his wife Charlie, who is also undergoing hypnotherapy, ostensibly to help her to stop smoking but actually hoping for some help with the sexual problems of her marriage.
Obviously I'm not going to tell you any more, but I can assure you that all of these things do prove in the end to be connected (well, not Simon's problems, but all the rest) in surprising and ingenious ways. But in fact the solution, though obviously necessary and perfectly satisfying, is nothing compared with the huge pleasures along the way. The characters are brilliantly conceived -- Amber, clever, spiky, difficult, but full of love for her adopted daughters -- her sister-in-law Jo, apparently a warm, caring woman but one who is apt to suddenly turn on her friends for no apparent reason -- Charlie and Simon, whose ongoing difficulties have featured in all the earlier novels -- and perhaps above all the two little girls, aged 6 and 8, who are superbly characterised and whose conversations with Amber are wonderfully true and touching.
I listened to this as an audiobook, courtesy of Audible, and it gave me many many hours of intense pleasure. It's out in hardback and on Kindle but not in paperback for a while yet. If I were you I'd get hold of it in some form or other as soon as possible. Thanks, Sophie! Can't wait for the next one.