Monday 31st August 2015
Mother, Delirious is a first novel by fellow Scot, Donna Harrower. I discovered the book when the writer followed me on Twitter and I was quickly sucked into a tightly woven and rewarding medical crime thriller.
Betty, a cleaner at a posh hotel, witnesses a brutal assault by the groom on his bride in the honeymoon suite and in so doing crosses paths with well-heeled mother-of-the-groom Dr Helen MacEveley who runs the local psychiatric hospital. Helen now has a big problem: the bride has a head wound and if news of the attack gets out, her son’s bipolar disorder will be discovered and his career in the police force will be over. So begins a complex and unpredictable story of two mothers, Betty and Helen, and the lengths a mother will go to protect her son.
I won’t say any more about the story because the fun is finding out how everything fits together, discovering connections between people and events. Mental illness isn’t a subject I’d gravitate to, but although Donna Harrower paints a realistic picture, the book never wallows in despair. The author even manages to inject humour into the inner voices. It’s a very Scottish read which may limit the market a little but helps make the setting real; I laughed when one of the cops played “keepy-uppy with a crumpled juice tin”. The banter back and forth between the police is sharp and it’s clear the author has first-hand experience to draw on. Helen’s power and importance could have been turned down a few notches without detracting from the story but I went along with it and — overall — found it was a satisfying and unusual read.
With my picky, writer’s goggles on, I thought the dialogue was well-crafted and believable. The language was vivid and the wintry descriptions evocative. The name McEveley made me think ‘evil’ at first, then I got it — doh! — Machiavelli (very clever). Strict observance of third person limited point-of-view would have improved the storytelling — at times we float from head to head, and that’s disorienting. Also there are patches of heavy introspection and backstory which may lose readers before they’re hooked by the here-and-now. The book hasn’t been line-edited and proofread, so reviewers will comment on that (and I just did), however it’s hard to justify the expense until the book catches on. I, for one, still haven’t sold enough books to recoup the £800+ editing costs for even one of my books, never mind all three.
With my blurry, marketing googles on, the cover is eye-catching but doesn’t convey the genre, and that may well mean fewer sales, which would be a pity, because it’s really rather good. Well done, Donna Harrower.