Review of The Split, by Sharon Bolton

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Sharon Bolton ranks with Elizabeth Haynes and Tana French as the best current writer of serious crime novels and The Split comes up to the mark. Here the author surpasses even her previous novel Little Black Lies for remote locations, setting parts at an Antarctic research station and abandoned whaling station on South Georgia Island. (Some of us will recall it from the Falklands War.) The other setting was more familiar, Cambridge at the very town centre opposite King’s College. Our principal character is a young glaciologist, Felicity Lloyd, who has been experiencing blackouts and bizarre episodes, and must consult Dr. Joe Grant, a psychiatrist, to be checked out and cleared to returned for two years of south polar research. Felicity reminded me of another of Sharon Bolton’s most attractive characters (with the same initials though in reverse order), DC Lacey Flint. Like Lacey, Felicity’s past is haunted by experiences of abuse and homelessness, and paranoid fear accompanying a personal collection of private demons, especially someone called Freddy. There is also killer in Cambridge preying on the homeless.

Like previous novels, here Sharon Bolton excels with vividly described settings (I felt I was back in Cambridge) and distinctively imagined characters, though I must confess Dr. Joe’s police officer mother struck me as a trifle OTT. I was surprised by the absence of Bolton’s characteristically fiendish plot twists. Of course there are red herrings and innocent characters who look as if they might be guilty, but before half-way it was obvious what was going on with Felicity. Normally I think it’s a flaw in a book if I suss it out too soon, but here I liked it that the author is playing fair with the reader, rather than having a minor character jump out of the wings to reveal a secret (as in Daisy in Chains).

The Split is a very quick read; I scarcely put it down. But I didn’t enjoy it as much as Sharon Bolton’s very best, Now You See Me. Found it more on the level with Dead Woman Walking. I fear as well that it will not repay perusing again. As I tried to get to sleep last night after finishing it, new questions kept bothering me. With her deprived background, just how did Felicity manage to graduate Cambridge with an advanced degree and become a scientist? How was she unaware of the details of her childhood trauma, which was a local sensation still recalled a quarter of a century later? And how did one of the characters have the physical fitness and skills (as well as lacking essential equipment, like even an ice axe) to tackle the glaciers of South Georgia? But ignoring the implausible, a very engaging read.

Though I’d award only 4 stars for execution and believability, setting and characters deserve 5.

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