The Other Half by Charlotte Vassell: A clever, complex story of tangled secrets – book review –
But when poor Clemmie is found murdered on Hampstead Heath after failing to appear at Rupert’s raucous and drug-fuelled 30th birthday party, finding her killer is going to lead an unorthodox police team deep into some of the gang’s dirtiest secrets.
If you like your crime mysteries to have all the complex detective work and exquisitely drawn characters of Agatha Christie, but with an original and insightful voice, an acidly satirical edge, and a decidedly 21st century vibe, then treat yourself to Charlotte Vassell’s stunning debut novel.
The Other Half does exactly what it says on the cover... delivers a gripping, high-energy police procedural mystery set within a London super-rich milieu in which only a chosen few born into staggering wealth can comfortably exist, and which is pretty much unimaginable to the ‘oiks’ who live on the other side of the class divide.
It’s a tale of ‘two worlds rubbing shoulders,’ full of wickedly incisive social commentary, plenty of twists and turns, captivating literary allusions, and a cast of goodies and baddies that could only have been conjured up by a writer who also trained to tread the boards.
Ever since being dumped by his beautiful girlfriend Héloise, ‘a sarcastically eyebrowed Parisienne poet who saw beauty in the oddest things,’ Detective Caius Beauchamp has been on a self-improvement spree which includes YouTube yoga and trying to eat obscure varieties of organic squashes.
Smart dresser Caius is even spending his Sunday mornings jogging on Hampstead Heath in the hope that Héloise might take him back, but what he hadn’t reckoned on was stumbling upon a woman’s body on his downhill lap from Parliament Hill.
The victim is Clemmie O’Hara, an Instagram influencer who has been poisoned and her throat cut, and it seems she had been the on/off girlfriend of Rupert Beauchamp (pronounced differently and definitely no relation to a certain detective) whose 30th birthday party had been a black tie dinner in the upstairs rooms at the Kentish Town McDonald’s the previous evening.
It was a night of bacchanalian exploits and excesses paid for in crisp £50 notes with the assurance of no CCTV cameras in operation, and featured a guest list of Rupert’s college chums, some of whom had agendas of their own for the evening.
Naturally, all the party-goers – including the beautiful Helena (Nell) Waddingham who is treated by Rupert ‘like his second girlfriend’ – have alibis and the murder investigation soon looks like it is going to be about triple-barrelled surnames, Classics degrees and aristocrats, a world that couldn’t be further from Caius’ comfort zone.
Fortunately, Caius isn’t easily intimidated but as he searches for the dark truth beneath the luxury, a wall of staggering wealth threatens to shut down his investigation before it’s begun. Can he see a way through the complex set of relationships in which the other half live – and die – before the case is taken out of his hands?
Vassell’s addictive murder mystery plunges readers into a world of haves and have nots as she explores society’s darkest corners and the racism that can simmer beneath the surface whilst fearlessly plunging a knife into the pretensions, snobbery and conceit of the British class system.
And it’s a clever, complex story of tangled secrets, aristocratic excess and hidden resentments which unfolds at top speed and with the sharpest writing and the most entertaining blend of descriptive language, lively dialogue and references to ancient Greek mythology.
Alternating between the perspectives of the thoroughly likeable Caius and the ‘angry bluestocking’ Nell, The Other Half is both caustically funny and refreshingly different, serving up familiar tropes like red herrings, intriguing suspects and plot twists with wit, style and unexpected blasts of high emotion.
A crime thriller to enjoy and an exciting author to watch...
(Faber & Faber, hardback, £14.99)