Hilary Bonner, September 2013, 400 pages, Pan, ISBN: 1447218736
Reviewed by Susan White.
(Read more of Susan's reviews for Euro Crime here.)
The story is based in Dartmoor and concerns a woman whose small family, one teenage son and her husband, are her whole life. They live in a beautiful house on the edge of a small village, their life is very contained and, to an extent, they are complacent with their good fortune. One day Marion returns home from her part-time teaching job to find the house very quiet and wonders why her son, who she left revising, hasn't responded to her calls. She takes him a cup of tea and finds him hanging from a beam in his room. Her life continues to fall apart as she finds that her husband is not who she thought he was.
Her only friend is Bella, a fellow dog walker that she met on the beach. But even Bella isn't everything she seems to be. A series of incidents beginning with a burglary and ending with a child abduction makes this a roller-coaster of a read. The evidence seems stacked against Marion, proving her an unstable, paranoid grieving mother in the eyes of the police.
The story reminds me of Barbara Vine and Sophie Hannah, concerned as it is with physiological torture and destruction. There are difficult themes: the death of one child, the abduction of another and the difficulty of making people listen when all the evidence points in one direction
I personally found Marion and her husband quite unsympathetic. My only sympathy for anyone in the family being with Robbie, the son, so distressed with life to take his own life. I think the lack of sympathy is generated by the total insulation and self satisfaction of Marion, who distances herself even from her own father, ignoring his needs for support and care in his grief.
Because of my lack of involvement in the main character, I didn't really enjoy THE CRUELLEST GAME, however, I can recommend it as an interesting and a very good read.
Susan White, October 2013