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Joanna Hines was a new author to me when I picked up "The Murder Bird, but I see that she’s written ten novels, one of which has been televised: "Improvising Carla". So what led to "The Murder Bird" making it onto my radar? It was an interview with the author on "The Between the Lines show " on Oneword radio, that did it for me. (Just follow the link if you want to receive the benefits for yourself and believe me, you may want to amend your book buying budget when you do.)
After that, it’s called a "hook" and it’s the best one I’ve read. The opening sentence and paragraph should make a classic example of an opening hook in all those writing courses taking place across the world. How could you not want to read on after reading this?
"Five weeks after Kirsten Waller’s body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband. Paul Hobden, a large, blubbery whale of a man, was sleeping off the effects of a boozy lunch. In the corner of the room, a black and while film involving much swash and buckle was chattering away on the TV. While Douglas Fairbanks Jr swished his sword with laughing, lethal accuracy, Grace Hobden picked up a Sabatier filleting knife from the rack in her kitchen, went into the living room and, without hesitating for a moment, plunged the blade into the soft mound of her husband’s chest."
In a nutshell: Poet Kirsten Waller is found dead in her bath and the verdict at the inquest is suicide. However, Sam, her daughter cannot believe this and certain pieces of evidence lead her onto a trail of investigation on her own. Kirsten’s journal is missing, so too is her latest poem "The Murder Bird". Was "The Murder Bird" a foretelling of Kirsten’s own death or something else entirely? Sam’s determination to find both of these exhibits is thwarted at every point by the actions of her stepfather, Raph, who claims to be protecting her. But what is the truth? Sam seeks to find it…
And dear God, what a mess of life! Raph, who loved Kirsten, but who was estranged from her when she died, had nurtured her daughter Sam, like his own. Come the inquest, Sam’s "step-daughter" status with Raph is long gone. She’s lost her own room at Raph’s London house and the keys to match. By then, Raph who can’t be alone, has taken up with Lola, a self-centred and selfish woman whom he puts first. (Think an hour glass Jessica Rabbit who lives parasitically above all else, when not attempting to be unfaithful, because she can and because she’s tempted.)
Above all here, think Sam, who has a seemingly spineless father to support her and little else apart from her solid determination to seek the truth. The "best intentions" of all around Sam prove to be her greatest challenge. Who, in her own extended family is really on her side and the truth of Kirsten’s death?
Sam is right in one suspicion – here we have a set of family secrets about t0 unfold. She was as oblivious as the reader and it all leads to great suspense along the way as well as a great dénouement.
If like me, you’ve missed "Joanna Hines" until now, hear this: she’s as acute on psychological thriller writing as Minette Walters, and as true to Andrew Taylor when it comes to twists.
Please do read her novels. I suggest you start with "The Murder Bird" as that’s where I cottoned on to the value of this author. Outstanding!
In just under four weeks’ time, Joanna Hines is due to chair the "New Blood" panel at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. D0 try her novels. And if you wonder why she’s chairing a "New Blood" panel, you only have to read "The Murder Bird" to find out. Has she escaped your radar so far? Perhaps you’re like me and missed the original Hines boat. And perhaps Simon & Schuster’s imprint Pocket Books might like to find the dosh to provide Hines with a decent marketing budget?