HIS & HERS
By Alice Feeney
Now that books compete with Netflix and other binge-watching streaming services, tangled plots, flawed characters and unreliable narrators have become essential ingredients of the modern crime novel.
Alice Feeney’s latest fast-moving thriller, “His & Hers,” has plenty of these elements for readers willing to suspend disbelief to delve into the murderous private life of a BBC News anchor.
“There are two sides to every story,” Feeney’s mysterious villain soliloquizes. “Yours and mine. Ours and theirs. His and hers. Which means someone is always lying.”
The “her” of the title is Anna Andrews, an understudy BBC News anchor with a brittle personality and a drinking problem so chronic that she keeps miniature bottles of liquor in her purse, swilling from them at any opportunity. She also takes a last-minute slug of white wine before leaving for work in the morning — never red because it leaves a telltale stain on her teeth.
Anna’s frailties are exposed through internal musings that chip away at her seemingly unflappable persona. The smile she flashes at the end of each broadcast never hints at her dark past. Inside, Anna is an emotional wreck — partly from a recent tragedy and partly from the festering of a dark secret from her teens when she was befriended by a cliquey group of mean girls. (“I’ve spent so many years trying to forget these girls and now, once again, they are all that I can think about.”)
Anna’s alcoholism doesn’t help either, although she covers it well with a ready supply of breath mints and an enviable ability to bounce back from binges: “It’s nothing some prescription eye drops and a cup of coffee can’t rectify.”
The “his” of the title is Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harper, a middle-aged detective who gave up on the London rat race for low-key policing in Blackdown. A burglary is the worst crime that Detective Harper handles in this quaint village surrounded by forests. “The truth is,” he says, “since I left London, my job has been as dull as a nun’s underwear drawer.”
This changes when the first victim turns up. Her silky blouse is soaked red from knife wounds to her chest. Written in red varnish on the victim’s fingernails are the words “Two Faced.” Tied around her tongue is a red-and-white friendship bracelet.
With the regular news anchor unexpectedly back from maternity leave, Anna is demoted to the role of reporter and sent to cover the murder in Blackdown. This is her old stomping ground, where she grew up as the daughter of the village cleaning lady — and where she made a secret visit on the night of the murder. Suddenly, Anna is beneath a cloud of suspicion, at least in the mind of the reader.
Meanwhile, Jack is suffering the aftereffects of a late-night assignation with a beautiful woman in a car. Lo and behold, when he arrives at the crime scene, he discovers that the murder victim is the woman from the night before. “This is bad,” he thinks. “If anyone ever finds out, they’re going to think it was me.” And Jack’s scarf, the one he wears around his neck like “a cozy personalized noose”? Turns out, it was a gift from his ex, who is none other than the television reporter assigned to cover this homicide investigation. That would be Anna Andrews.
As animosity crackles between the exes, more mutilated bodies turn up in what appears to be a serial killing rampage. Mounting evidence points to the possibility that either Anna or Jack could be the killer, depending on which narrator is to be believed. These are not random killings; each murdered woman has a friendship bracelet tied around her tongue. And, decades earlier, all of the victims attended Anna’s Sweet 16 birthday party — which wasn’t so sweet at all (in spite of the friendship bracelets distributed to guests). There’s a reference to a bullying incident.
The actual crime is far more heinous, though there’s little time to dwell as the story propels toward a climax that reveals not just the killer but the reliability, or otherwise, of the narrators. Sympathetic characters are thin on the ground in a twisty tale that tests the limits of plausibility even as it entertains.