The Art of the Imperfect by Kate Evans starts with a murder but this mystery set in a Yorkshire seaside town is not a thriller, it is not a police procedural, it is not cosy crime; it a story about the psychology of the people concerned and the after-effects of the event. Evans is a counsellor, like her protagonist Hannah Poole, and this allows her to bring an emotional depth and understanding to her characters. This is the first in the Scarborough Mysteries series and was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award in 2015.
Like Emma Woodhouse, Hannah is a serial not-finisher. She has failed to finish training to be an accountant, a plumber and, twice, to be a counsellor. This is the third time she’s tried the counselling thing, and now she discovers a dead body. Her boss. A large number of characters are introduced in the first few pages, and names are littered around which I found dislocating. But I love the drawing of the Yorkshire setting, the town of Scarborough– my home town, so I am biased – the train journey to York, all done with a light hand. For example, ‘The sea is below them. Its solid air-force blue cracked open only occasionally by a filament of white. It has retreated away from the brown sand and weedy rocks and is quiet, with only a whisper coming in on its frosty exhale.’
Dr Themis Greene, a romanticised version of her ordinary-sounding real name, is psychology lecturer at the Centre for Therapy Excellence. Hannah, back in Scarborough and lodging with her parents, is studying at the Centre but longs for the action of the city. She misses London, her lodgings with landlord Lawrence, and her friends. As part of her qualification Hannah must see a counsellor herself and this is where her deeply-hidden fears emerge, the trauma of finding the body, other things she has tried to forget.
The post-murder story is told by three people – Hannah, Detective Sergeant Theo Akande and lawyer Aurora, new mother and Hannah’s neighbour. In passages of intense description, Evans describes the post-natal depression suffered by Aurora as her dreams turn to delusion. She alternates between suspecting her husband Max of violence, to fearing Mad and their son have been abducted and replaced by wolf man and wolf baby. Some of these passages are a little wild for my taste and I admit to skipping paragraphs.
Therapy is an unusual element of this character-led mystery, unusual also for its portfolio of characters without one key protagonist. Theo and Hannah are not a double-act solving murder in the tradition of crime fiction, but this is not a traditional crime series.
If you like this, try:-
‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor
‘The Silent Twin’ by Caroline Mitchell
‘The Killing of Polly Carter’ by Robert Thorogood
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE ART OF THE IMPERFECT by @KateEvansAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Uz via @SandraDanby