Fragile by Sarah Hilary

A homeless teenage girl in London tricks her way into the home of a wealthy man, in order to get inside the place where her partner was last seen.

A gothic fiction, set inside a crumbling mansion full of books and papers owned by a dark and moody man, this book is quite a page turner. I initially thought that this was going to be about the mystery of where Joe went and what happened. He followed a woman into that house, but only a man lives there. It’s very intriguing. But there’s also another thread. Nell and Joe grew up in foster homes, and they left the last one after a little girl went missing, under the care of the abusive Meagan, who wants revenge. I almost want to say more about the plot, but I like the way the book unfolds, and don’t want to reveal anything. A few things I thought wouldn’t happen or resolve til the end start to heat up half way through, which I love. So there’s plenty of plotting and twists and turns.

This author is well known for writing the DI Marnie Rome series, so some of you may recognise the author. This is her first standalone story. I really like her writing style, She captured really well that odd dichotomy that is London: it’s beautiful and sordid, it’s comfortable, confident lives and also desperate, despairing ones. Hilary gets this without belaboring the point or making it cheesey. It’s just nicely described via the characters knowledge of the social rules and her assessment of people and place around her, what she can get away with.

The book is dark, but in some ways the cynicism about people is darker than what anyone does. There are some horrible things here, but they’re not described in great detail. Instead, the real darkness comes from the spite, desperation and vengeful personalities of the female characters. None of the women are stable or reliable, they lash out when cornered, they aren’t kind to other women. Their kindness and love is (almost) only for the men in the story, and the men are partly pawns to them and partly feeding off the womens need for them. It’s dark.

The book is essentially a mystery or puzzle, with plenty of gothic style and drama thrown in. I enjoyed it. I think there was a little towards the end where it felt like nothing was happening for a few chapters, but it picks back up nicely. I feel a bit critical about two things. The author chose to include a “directors cut” chapter at the end, which was an original opening scene that she really didn’t want to cut from the book. It’s not a very good scene and the inclusion feels redundant and self absorbed. It adds nothing. The second thing is near the ending. Nell blames one man for the entire foster care system. The whole thing. As though he’s even responsible directly for her own foster carer’s behaviour and all decisions made ever. It felt a bit jarring, as though we were suddenly being preached at, and it didn’t fit to me. The end could have been bigger and darker, compared to what came before. But it works. This is an entertaining and twisty read, and I liked it.

Read It If: I think this one will please mystery readers, those who like Gothic fiction set in Britain, and those who like dark, twisty dramas. It’s pretty good!

Thank you to PGC Books for the copy of this book for review.

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