Welcome to my stop on the Blog Tour for this electrifying thriller. Thank you to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Reads Blog Tours for the invitation to take part, and Trapeze Books, NetGalley and HS Chandler for the eBook ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
When you read this book, you will think you know every twist in the tale.
Maria is on trial for attempted murder.
She has confessed to the crime and wanted her husband dead.
Lottie is on the jury, trying to decide her fate.
She embarks on an illicit affair with a stranger, and her husband can never find out.
You will think you know who is guilty and who is innocent.
You will be wrong.
A gripping, sexy and twisty novel for readers who devoured ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL, APPLETREE YARD and HE SAID/SHE SAID.
Murder. Sex. Betrayal. This compelling courtroom drama has these things and more. Reading it was like eating a bag of maltesers – once I started I couldn’t stop until it was finished.
The book opens with Edward Bloxhom dead from a head wound. His wife, Maria, is calmly drying a mug and thinking about how she’ll get the blood out of the grouting. After a short time she calls the police and goes outside to wait for their arrival, thankful to be free of the man who controlled her life for almost twenty years. We then jump forward to the first day of Maria’s trial which we follow as the evidence is presented – shocking claims of abuse from the defense, and of a violent, cold-blooded murderess from the prosecution.
I loved that this story was narrated by both the defendant and a member of the jury charged with deciding her fate. We don’t often get an insight into the jury room and their perspective so it was interesting to follow that side of things in detail. Initially it appears that Maria and Lottie, the juror, couldn’t be more different but we come to understand there are many similarities between them. Both women were interesting characters that I enjoyed reading and I felt like they would probably have been able to be great friends in another situation. Lottie wonders on the first day how Maria must be feeling about entrusting her future to twelve strangers and has a willingness to see Maria as a person with feelings, something the other jurors don’t seem to do. I was glad she had at least one person on the jury seeing her as a human being and not being quick to judge.
Domestic abuse and controlling partners is a topic at the heart of this book. Maria is initially reluctant to explain to anyone why she bludgeoned her husband. After all, how can she explain to strangers what she struggles to believe herself? But in court she finally reveals the appalling details of almost two decades of coercive control and abuse. There were many times I would feel sick to my stomach at the details, especially the parts relating to physical harm, but this was a vital part of the story so we could understand what life was like for Maria, what her mental state was. Without it she appears to be a crazy disgruntled wife who savagely bludgeoned her defensive husband. Once we’ve heard her story it seems obvious that she is a desperate woman who didn’t think there was any other way out.
But Maria isn’t the only one who’s lived a life walking that fine tightrope trying to please an abusive man. There are others in this story too, including juror Lottie, who’s husband Zain controls their home. Everything must be done to his specifications and he even orders her to get herself excused from jury duty as doesn’t want the “disruption” to his picture-perfect existence. Lottie longs for more than being a housewife and mother but Zain won’t entertain her doing anything else so the chance to escape to the excitement of jury duty is a welcome one, even if it causes arguments with Zain. The author perfectly portrays the reality of life with an abuser and how by the time you see what’s going on you’re often in so deep that you either don’t think about leaving or are too scared of what will happen if you do.
An important aspect that the author addresses briefly is the disparity between how domestic abuse victims killing their abusers and abusers killing their victims is viewed. Maria ponders that her story would not be sensational or have garnered such interest if it had been Edward who killed her. Obviously murder isn’t how anyone would encourage a victim to leave an abuser, but I think the fact that the death of a woman (and it is most commonly women) at the hands of an abusive partner is so heartbreakingly common now that it often barely warrents a second glance. But when it’s the other way around there’s an outcry and a lack of understanding of the sheer desperation someone feels to commit such an act.
I am a sucker for a good courtroom drama and a huge fan of this author’s DI Callanach series, under her real name of Helen Fields, so I couldn’t wait to read this standalone novel. One of the things I love about her writing style is the little details she gives us that really get us inside the mind and connect us to her characters. As with all her other books this one is expertly written, fast paced and full of twists and turns. I did guess “the twist” early on, but the author has such a talent that I’d talked myself out of it and was taken aback when it proved right later on.
Any books by this author are a must read for me and this one did not disappoint. Degrees of Guilt is a fantastic courtroom drama and domestic thriller that I highly recommend.
Available now from your favourite bookseller.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
HS Chandler is the pen name of Helen Fields. As HS Chandler she writes psychological thrillers and legal thrillers. With a background as a criminal and family law barrister, she now runs a media company and writes the Callanach crime series.