New(ish) Crime Writers: Sophie Hannah

by Harry on November 28, 2016

After the last post in this series (what, a year ago?) a reader wrote to me enthusiastically about Sophie Hannah, assuming I’d have already read her. In fact I hadn’t: amazon had recommended her to me, so I had bothered to look her up and note her lineage but, to my embarrassment, the fact that she is a poet put me off a little bit. Still, a reader bothers to email me with a recommendation, I should try, right? I ended up doing something unusual: I read the Zailer/Waterhouse novels in order without a break, starting with Little Face. Hannah has a unique talent. Most of the books are psychological thrillers, and involve multiple deceptions among the characters, including between various of the detectives; in fact, in both Little Face and The Truth-Teller’s Lie (the first two) I occasionally worried that something supernatural was going to be involved (which would have been a cheat – as an aside I am curious what readers think about James Oswald’s crime novels, which I find completely addictive, but worry that I am being conned by). They are far from straightforward police procedurals, and the relationship between Zailer and Waterhouse is deeply unhealthy (and for a long time it’s hard to tell whether Waterhouse has some sort serious mental illness or is just extremely unpleasant). Yet there’s a sort of coziness to them – none of the plots are predictable (to me anyway), but the characters around Waterhouse (including Zailer) are stable and mostly likeable, the invented local geography is consistent and becomes familiar over the course of the novels, and the domestic lives of the characters involved in the labyrinthine plots are detailed lovingly – Hannah loves and cares about middle class English mothers who get the short end of the stick, but she shows her love by putting them in unbelievable (though possible) and awful situations!

I’m not sure I’d recommend reading all 10 in a row, but I’d certainly recommend reading them all over the course of a couple of years. So, thank you, unnamed reader!

Additional Comment
I haven’t read her Hercule Poirots, but hear they are terrific, so probably will read them after Christmas. I did decide to read The Orphan Choir, to see how well she did the actual supernatural. Now, I don’t really like the supernatural, and I didn’t really like The Ghost Choir but I could see that if she decided to write 3 more, the 4th would be outstanding. Still, I hope she sticks with crime.

WARNING: For reasons that I can’t imagine Sophie Hannah seems unusually prone to having her titles changed: most books are published under one name in the UK and an entirely different one in the US. So, beware duplication!



Chris Bertram 11.28.16 at 7:00 am

Norman Geras’s daughter.


Maria 11.28.16 at 8:17 am

Oh wow, I didn’t know that connection, Chris.

I heard an interview with her on BBC radio by Graham Norton last month, and it made me interested in reading her. (still haven’t done it, though) She came across as unusually smart and gracious, in the way of someone who’s been doing this a long time but hasn’t gotten cynical. And very, very funny – it’s not every day Norton interviews a novelist who can match him verbally.


Lynne 11.28.16 at 11:20 am

On the strength of your recommendation I just bought Little Face for my Kobo e-reader—wouldn’t have, if they had supernatural elements in them (the latest collaboration between Kellerman father and son disappointed that way). Little Face sounds borderline too psychological thriller for me, but the price was right and the recommendation couldn’t be ignored! Thanks!


harry b 11.28.16 at 1:09 pm

That’s nice Lynne! Let me know what you think. I’m thinking of writing about James Oswald, who does have very mild supernatural elements (and I am still not sure whether I like them — but read every one when it comes out so I suppose I must like them enough).

Yes, that’s what I meant about her lineage. I’ll see if I can find the interview Maria — that is exactly how she comes off from the books!


MPAVictoria 11.28.16 at 3:24 pm

I am always looking for new audio-books to listen to while taking care of the mundane tasks of life, so thank you very much for these great suggestions Harry.

I have recently been enjoying the DS Heckenburg series of mysteries by Paul Finch. The first novel is by far the best with each of the sequels following the same template with diminishing returns. That said I still enjoyed them and would recommend them for fans of the genre.


Lynne 11.28.16 at 4:12 pm

MPAV, I like to have an audiobook on the go, too. Right now it’s Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) which I’m ambivalent about so far. Really tired of women being referred to as girls, and of being shown something and then told it, or told something and then being shown it. But that’s a writer’s complaint. I do find it harder to overlook irritations when listening to a book than when reading it.


Donald A. Coffin 11.28.16 at 6:05 pm

I read her first “Poirot,” and if the character you remember is that of Agatha Christie, this will be a shock. Personally, I thought it was badly plotted, and the reveal seemed like a cheat. YMMV, of course.


MPAVictoria 11.29.16 at 12:18 am

Hi Lynne! I must admit that I loved that one myself. Sorry to hear you aren’t enjoying it. Hope all is well!


harry b 11.29.16 at 5:57 am

On audio books vs actual novels — I, too, am more impatient with audio books (and actually prefer to listen to adaptations, eg the unbelievably wonderful Bill Nighy adaptations of Simon Brett’s perfectly ok but not great Charles Paris books). But: I have listened to Tim Curry read two Elizabeth George books, and loved them both, whereas trying to read her books I find a huge chore. So I think the right reader can overcome considerable writing flaws.

On Poirot — maybe I should start a discussion of the Jill Paton Walsh Wimseys, which I have loved (but aren’t exactly true to the original, which I also love).

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