Helen Fitzgerald- Worst Case Scenario

Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists.

Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice with devastating consequences…

I don’t know about any other bookseller but I am just waiting for the day when someone says, “You wouldn’t by any chance have any books where Irvine Welsh is channelled through the madcap world of a slightly unhinged menopausal woman would you?” To which I could triumphantly declare that yes, I have the very thing. Having read and reviewed Helen Fitzgerald’s books before, I think it really is fair to say that there are few contemporary writers that display the natural versatility and scope that she so confidently displays from book to book. For this reason alone, her books are unerringly readable, and as she turns her acerbic and probing gaze on, in this case, a woman under extreme pressure for a whole variety of reasons, you are never quite sure where she is going to take you…

Throughout Worst Case Scenario we become fully immersed in the world of Mary, an ageing criminal-justice social worker, grappling with a host of unpleasant clients, the daily struggle with petty bureaucracy, an over-reliance on illegal, and legal stimulants, and the nefarious onset of intense menopausal symptoms. Oh, and her perceived involvement in the suicide of one of her clients, an entanglement with the #MeToo movement, and attracting the hatred of pretty much every ‘cuckolded’ man the length and breadth of the nation. All told there’s quite a lot going on in Mary’s life, which becomes increasingly difficult with her son’s involvement with the daughter of said suicide victim, and the growing strain on her relationship with her husband Roddie. It’s all here: misogyny, misandry, perversion, hot flashes, and a pervading feel at times of a woman drowning, not waving.

As totally unhinged as this all sounds, Fitzgerald absolutely takes the reader through this strange and almost hallucinogenic world, where depravity and constant self doubt plague Mary’s life, but where Mary meets each challenge with all the subtlety of a blunt instrument, and with all the tact of the aforementioned too. She is a real force of nature, and despite her numerous flaws and the frustration she arouses in the reader, I liked her very much. Would I want her job? No. Would I want her ballsiness? Absolutely.

I’ve never had cause to refer to Greek mythology in a review before, but there’s a first time for everything, but Fitzgerald really does summon up the Muses of comedy, Thalia  and tragedy, Melpomene  in this book. Cut through with dark humour, moments of excruciating discomfort, Fitzgerald balances her razor-sharp comic touch, with moments of extreme pathos and heartbreak, carefully harnessing the incidences of psycho-drama with the inherent need for the pace and suspense of any compelling psychological thriller. Taking a diversion from Greek mythology to the film Jumpin’ Jack Flash (yeah, stay with me), Whoopi Goldberg declares that she has the face of a woman on the edge, and that’s how I saw Mary, and I loved her all the more for it.

Worst Case Scenario is one of Fitzgerald’s best books to date, in its relevancy and very unique spin on a whole host of social, criminal and women’s issues. Would absolutely recommend this one…

Missed a date? Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

February 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Okay- so where the heck did February go? Seems I have only just posted January’s round-up, and am feeling the effects of a busy month indeed. A month of mixed fortunes as far as reading goes, with 5 non-starters (3 of which did not even get a sniff of the magical 40 page rule) and the endless battle to juggle my crime and fiction reading commitments. I feel like I’m in real confessional mode now! Anyhow….moving on to business…

Books reviewed this month…

Helen Fitzgerald- Viral

Manchette’s Fatale- Adapted by Max Cabanes and Doug Headline

Oscar de Muriel- A Fever of the Blood

Chris Ould- The Blood Strand 

Joe Flanagan- Lesser Evils

Travis Mulhauser- Sweetgirl

Augusto de Angelis- The Murdered Banker

41QNtHNg+sL__SX327_BO1,204,203,200_So, in addition to the 7 reviews I did manage to post, I also read Valerio Varesi’s A Woman Much Missed. I’m rather partial to this series set in Parma, and featuring the world weary detective Commisario Soneri, a man who seems to have a deep rooted dislike of everybody and everything. He has a problem with delegation, is a melancholic flaneur with commitment issues, but in his favour has no qualms about donning a duffel coat. I do like a man in a duffel coat. What I particularly liked about this one, was the way that it re-traced the early days of his relationship with his late wife, and the secrets this threw up in its wake. There is always a languorous and meditative feel to Varesi’s writing that puts me in mind of Simenon, but counterbalanced by moments of immorality and violence that appear all the more shocking as they punch through the slowly unfolding plot. If you haven’t tried Varesi before, he really is worth a look…

I’ve also been indulging my penchant for war fiction by picking up Matt Gallagher’s Iraq based novel Young Blood which seems to be pushing the same emotional buttons as last month’s Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker. Also currently reading Tightrope by Simon Mawer– a superb tale of spies, lies and espionage; a curious and unsettling American tale called Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh , and a whisker away from finishing Danish crime novel Retribution by the brilliant Steffen Jacobsen– to be reviewed soon. Still a teetering to read pile,  and two blog tours on the horizon this month too. Deep breaths and focus…

Raven’s Book of the Month

JOEDespite the paucity of reviews this month this was a good eclectic mix and each book had something to recommend it. However, this month my heart belonged to debut author Joe Flanagan for Lesser Evils- a brilliantly constructed and compelling crime novel set in 1950’s Cape Cod, that tackled some weighty issues as well as providing a multi-layered and emotive plot that I was utterly caught up in from start to finish. Marvellous. I just want to read it again….

 

 

Helen Fitzgerald- Viral

viral

Okay, so there’s been a wee bit of a furore regarding the opening line of this book, and Fitzgerald’s use of a c-word- no, not that one- but one which seems to have caused a bit of consternation. Personally speaking there are far worse c-words- Cameron, chlamydia, cystitis- which are all singularly unpleasant in their own way, so I was completely undeterred by her shock opener. It’s called freedom of expression.  Also despite my general loathing/apathy to the current trend of domestic noir thrillers, I suppose in a way that this book does draw on certain motifs from this genre, but thanks to the acerbic and beautifully twisted nature of Fitzgerald’s writing Viral felt like a real trip to the dark side of domestic relationships…

The story centres on the implosion of a family due to an event filled trip to Magaluf undertaken by British teenager Leah and her adopted Korean sister Su, who are like chalk and cheese in terms of character and behaviour. Rebellious Leah is wildly impulsive, set against the swottish and demure Su, but one ill-fated night in Magaluf and the pernicious world of social media, sees the corruption of goody two shoes Su, and the far-reaching effect of her actions causing a meltdown in her family. To escape the fallout of that fateful night, Su embarks on a voyage of discovery about herself and her roots in Korea, whilst causing her adoptive mother, high court judge Ruth, to embark on her own journey of retribution against those responsible for Su’s trials and tribulations.

Although, I confess I wasn’t entirely convinced by the arc of the story, and the way the plot played out, what I did enjoy was the way that Fitzgerald really got beneath the skin of her main protagonists, and exposed with such precision their failings. This detached style of holding her characters up to scrutiny and judgement is a recurring theme in her books, and hence why I like reading them so much. When put under the microscope, her characters demonstrate the worst aspects of human nature, despite our initial impressions of them, and are neither all good, or all bad. I also like the way that Fitzgerald dispels our perceptions of her characters as the book progresses, so we are forced to reassess our opinions of them and the way they behave. The dominant character of Ruth in particular takes on the mantle of an avenging angel, and whilst her actions could be applauded as demonstrating a mother’s need to protect her child, they do come at some cost to herself and her daughters, on her one-woman mission for justice. Equally, Leah’s initial selfishness and abhorrent behaviour is roundly turned in on itself, and the somewhat nauseating goodness of Su begins to deteriorate into out of character solipsism as the book progresses, after her awful experience in Spain, and the interesting exploration of her true self. I also enjoyed the way that Fitzgerald used the three main locations- Britain, Spain and Korea- as a springboard for the changes in character her protagonists undergo, and showing how even the relative safety and security of home can be deceptive in the aftermath of a crisis. Of course, reflecting the title the book has much to say on the pervasive nature and reach of social media, and it’s destructive effects after one young girl’s coercion into a moment of madness that cannot be easily escaped. Any salacious or harmful information has the potential to be put up for public consumption, but what if it happened to you? Unsettling indeed.

Spiky, uncompromising and engaging. Domestic noir that packs a proper punch.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)