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10th May
2010
written by Steph

I wanted to post this review yesterday, but I thought it would be rather too wicked of me to post my review of Sophie Hannah’s debut crime novel, Little Face, on Mothers Day. I’ve heard from many women that upon becoming mothers, there were certain books and/or films that they just couldn’t stomach any longer. Generally these books involve terrible things happening to children, or they depict a parental nightmare of some sort.  Little Face certainly falls into the latter camp. Having endured a difficult birth just two weeks earlier, Alice Fancourt finally ventures out of her home for a baby-free afternoon.  When she returns home, she faces a mother’s greatest fear: her newborn daughter has been kidnapped. Even more sinister, Alice claims that Florence has been replaced by an imposter baby. Her husband, David, thinks that she has lost her mind, and his bemusement swiftly turns to disgust and anger.  When DC Simon Waterhouse takes on the case, he finds a family in upheaval.  He’s not sure he believes Alice’s wild claim, but on the other hand, there’s something about David – whose first wife was stabbed to death – that he doesn’t quite trust.  David’s hostility towards Alice is palpable, so Simon fears the worst and races against the clock when both Alice and the baby go missing… I read this book over the course of last weekend; you know the one where Nashville was experiencing epic floods?  Something about the abysmal weather just made this feel right.  Nothing like massive amounts of rain to call England to mind, I guess! Seriously though, Little Face is a relatively short book that really lends itself to extended reading sessions. I was perfectly happy to listen to the rain pour down as I rapidly turned the pages. The writing was crisp and the pacing was good, both things that help make for a good thriller. Still, I have to admit, I found Little Face to be somewhat disappointing.  The reviews I’d read previously had been full-out raves that applauded Hannah’s tight plotting and stunning twists.  As a result, I was expecting a mind-bending, breakneck thriller.  Instead, I found the certain elements of the mysteries to be rather transparent (especially the storyline involving David’s first wife), and I was pretty disappointed with the resolution of Alice’s story.  Although I suppose I could understand the reasoning behind the crime, it was a let-down and felt a bit like a cop-out.  It’s always so frustrating when you read a mystery that’s got this amazingly bizarre premise and then the conclusion is so ordinary and uninspired.  That’s really how I felt here. I also felt that I had some issues with this book because I didn’t really connect or empathize with any of the characters.  I know we are supposed to feel for Alice and her horrible situation, but I thought she was pretty unsympathetic and pathetic.  I also felt like David’s behavior was so extreme and inexplicable in many ways, so he wound up feeling like a caricature. His behavior was so shocking, and yet I felt like it was wildly inconsistent throughout the book, and then also wasn’t satisfactorily explained in the end. Really, the biggest problem for me was that most of the characters in this book failed to peel themselves off the page for me and become real people.  I felt they were drawn in a rather clunky manner, and I felt I could never really inhabit them and believe in them. Little Face isn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t fantastic either.  It felt like first mystery in which the author came up with a kind of gimmicky idea and ran with it, but didn’t have much else to flesh it out. I want more depth and insight in the books I read, in general, so while I don’t regret reading this – it was a diverting weekend read – I was disappointed overall.  As I do have The Wrong Mother, I will give Hannah another shot.  I think that many people would enjoy this book because it is a great page-turner, but it’s kind of like devouring an entire angel food cake in one sitting: you wind up on a sugar high and then come crashing down only to feel rather empty in the end. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

17 Comments

  1. “like devouring an entire angel food cake in one sitting”
    LOL!
    That is a good analogy! I am a big fan of Hannah and I think you have described it perfectly. It is a great page turner and really entertaining, but I understand your frustrations. Perhaps I empathised with Alice more because I read it shortly after having a baby? I didn’t guess the ending so it came as a big shock for me, further improving my love for it. I’m interested to see what Tana French is like now…

  2. 05/10/2010

    I hadn’t heard of this book yet and your review of it makes me believe that this might not be the book for me. I think the fact that the characters never really take on life and become the kind of people you feel you really get to know, coupled with the fact that the mystery aspect is less than satisfying are the main things that would keep me away from this book, but I do admit that the premise does sound very interesting. I am sorry that this book fell a little flat for you. I hope your second experience with Hannah is much better!!

  3. 05/10/2010

    I can’t get my finger on it, but something about this reminds me of a mothering backlash: she left her child and came back and it was gone! (Also, did anyone else think the fairies had taken it, and left a changeling?)

    Doesn’t sound like my cuppa, but not because I’m in a “can’t read that because it would be too painful” mood, but because it kinda sounds like what she’s going for–like the Saw or Hostel movies, except for Moms.

  4. mee
    05/10/2010

    I don’t think I have ever read a crime novel before. Obviously not my favorite genre, a mother or not. Oh one that came to mind is Out by Natsuo Kirino. Awesome book! 🙂

  5. 05/10/2010

    This is the first I’ve heard of this book and this author…and I must say, you’re not inspiring me to give her a go. 🙂

  6. 05/10/2010

    I’ve been wanting to try Hannah for a while now, partly because whenever I read a review of her books, they make me think of Ruth Rendell (especially when she writes as Barbara Vine). Have you read any Rendell/Vine books? I think she’s one of the best writers of psychological thrillers out there today, and I’d be curious about how you think she compares.

  7. 05/10/2010

    @ Jackie: I know you really like Hannah, but I’m glad you agreed that the ending of this one was a bit of a let-down. I definitely preferred In The Woods to Little Face, but I’ll be curious to see how I feel about The Wrong Mother.
     
    @ zibilee: I hope I like The Wrong Mother more! I try not to judge authors too harshly by their first books, since I realize there can be a curve when it comes to these kind of things. We shall see!
     
    @ Girl Detective: I didn’t think about it in terms of how you frame it, but now that you mention it, there is a portion in the book where Alice is squarely blamed by her MIL for letting this happen. So, yes, there is this constant fretting about how to be a good mother. Haven’t seen Saw or Hostel so can’t say whether the comparison is apt or not!
     
    @ mee: Haven’t heard of Kirino, so thanks for the recommendation! I’ll keep an eye out for Out.
     
    @ softdrink: I think if you do some poking around you’ll see that most people are more enthusiastic about this book than I was. I can see it broadly appealing, but I’m hoping her books get better.
     
    @ Teresa: I haven’t read Rendell/Vine, so unfortunately I can’t compare those books here. But you’ve definitely piqued my interest with your praise, so I’ll have to check out a Vine title or two in the future.

  8. I second Mee’s recommendation for Out – it is my favourite thriller! Very gruesome though – all about a women the dismembers her abusive husband!

  9. 05/11/2010

    I’m sorry to hear this was a bit of a let down! It really disappoints me to see a book take a cool premise and just turn it into something bland :\

  10. 05/11/2010

    Too bad the book didn’t deliver on its intriguing premise for you. It’s the sort of book I would tend to take off the shelf to read but after your review I probably don’t need to rush to add it to my list.

  11. 05/12/2010

    @ Jackie: Ok, I will keep an eye out for Out! Perhaps I’ll pick it up on my next trip to the library…
     
    @ Nymeth: Yeah, it’s always a let-down when a book has so much promise and then it kind of fizzles out.
     
    @ Kathleen: It was a book I didn’t mind reading, but when I finished it, I felt a bit bamboozled. It’s certainly not one I’d read again.

  12. Robin
    06/23/2010

    I spent several visits to Borders musing over whether or not to buy Little Face, The Wrong Mother and The Dead Lie Down (published in the UK under different names). I’m not a mystery/psychological thriller fan but Hannah’s books looked interesting. After my third consideration of them, I opted for Little Face and The Dead Lie Down; partly because these two books have some of the same characters. After reading Little Face, I’m hoping the development of these characters in The Dead Lie Down will have improved.

    Little Face kept me spellbound, even through the difficult parts of David’s character change. The disappointment came when I read Simon tell David “you didn’t do anything wrong.” I have a strong sense of justice/injustice and David had definitely “done something wrong.” His psychological abuse of Alice was deploring, so the fact that he got away with it, to the extent of Simon sympathizing with him, was shocking. And, of course, that Alice contrived the whole thing was also disappointing; but considering her motives and insight into the family she had married into, one can see why she did what she did. A better ending would have been for the character of Mandy to actually have switched Florence, but under who’s direction? That would have been an interesting twist.

    All in all, Little Face was disappointingly satisfying (if that’s possible).

  13. 06/24/2010

    @ Robin: Thanks for taking the time to comment! I may be misremembering, but I’m not sure that Simon knew about David’s treatment of Alice; certainly not the more horrific behaviors he engages in throughout the course of the novel. If he had, I can’t imagine anyone condoning his behavior!
    I think I was disappointed simply because the book really makes you believe that something weird and crazy is going on, so the ultimate reveal feels so banal and like a let-down, even if it makes sense. I do have a copy of another Sophie Hannah book so I’ll certainly read that, and I’ll hope I like it a bit more!

  14. Robin
    06/24/2010

    Gosh, you’re right! Perhaps another letdown… that Alice wouldn’t Simon she was treated so very badly. Will be interested in your thoughts on the next book of hers you read. I just started The Dead Lie Down and so far, I’m sceptical.

  15. 06/24/2010

    @ Robin: Please report back about The Dead Lie Down when you finish it! I’ve heard that some of Hannah’s later books are real jaw-droppers, so I’d love to hear what you think.

  16. Robin
    08/11/2010

    I just realized I never got back in touch with you regarding The Dead Lie Down, which I read right after Little Face. I certainly is a jaw dropper!! It’s a book you have to read quickly because the pace is so fast. I will not give too much away, in case you have not read it yet; but I read it with the intent of seeing a developement in the relationship between Charlie and Simon. Because I didn’t realize there were 2 or 3 books between Little Face (introduction of Charlie and Simon) and The Dead Lie Down, I wasn’t privy to why they are where they are in their relationship in this book. Something happened to Charlie that is alluded to but not specifically; and I still finished the book with the question: Why are these two people together? As far as the book as a whole, I think I mentioned I am not a thriller fan and this book was over-the-top with descriptions of violence. I had to finish it to find out who did what; but it wasn’t fun, not for me, at least. It certainly put a period on the end of my short-lived forray into psychological thrillers. And my question mark regarding Charlie and Simon is just going to have to be left alone… one of the in-between books is about Charlie’s relationship with a serial rapist, which I read on Amazon is very description in regard to the rapes. Sorry, Sophie Hannah can write a jaw-dropper, page-turner, it’s true, very true, but give me a 600-page biography of Julia Child and I’m happy and can sleep at night.

    God Bless, Steph; and I’ll keep reading your blog to see what else you are reading 🙂

  17. […] it was not what I’d call a fun read. It reminded me at times of Sophie Hannah’s Little Face (which I reviewed here) in terms of the almost casual inclusion of extremely horrific moments that almost seem to loom up […]

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