Review: Keeper by Jessica Moor
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Right. This is going to be a hard review to write, because at so many points in this book I felt so disturbed and uncomfortable that my skin was actually physically crawling. Very briefly, this is a thriller/mystery where one of the characters, Katie, seemingly commits suicide and the two detectives in this tiny little town in the north of England try to trace why, or maybe find out if she's been murdered. It's discovered that she worked at a refuge for women fleeing abusive relationships, and the story shifts around between Katie's backstory, the police trying to solve her case, and the women in the refuge.
And, oh boy, this book is hard.
I really struggled to separate the book from the story of the book, if that makes any sense - like I can't judge the writing or the plotting or the characterization because I haven't yet been able to look past how engrossing, how terrible, how downright disturbing the story itself is. It reminds me a lot of Louise Doughty's Platform Seven, which is another mystery/thriller that focuses so clearly on domestic abuse - and as disturbing as Platform Seven was, it didn't come near to the level of skin-crawling horror that I got from this book. I can't quite place my finger on why, but maybe it's the fact that the book flips so seamlessly back and forth in timelines, and the fact that we get so much more pushback on the whole concept of domestic abuse from the (mostly male) other characters, that there's a creepiness inherent in this book than in Platform Seven. Doughty never tries to explain why the people around her main character looked away from the horror of what was happening, whereas Jessica Moor shows us - shows us - all the people around Katie crooning over her boyfriend Jamie while you're sat there screaming at the book for someone, anyone, anyone, to please get her out of there. The hopelessness you feel as a reader watching this poor girl get put through the fucking ringer is (and I think this was Moor's objective, so well bloody done) quite similar to the hopelessness of Katie, as she feels the walls close around her and feels powerless to stop them or escape.
Moor also does a depressingly effective job of sketching just how little the people around her know or understand domestic abuse - especially the main, older, male police officer, Whitworth (I think that's his name). He doesn't mean ill, he's just an old-fashioned, sixty-year-old police officer who's legitimately convinced that abuse is only physical, and only happens to women who don't know how to fight back, or don't have the strength of will to leave. He's so condescending to the women who live at the refuge, and so judgmental and condescending and rude to the woman who runs it - he calls them all 'love' in that patronizing, dismissive way that drives me so insane I felt like throwing the book across the room. He never calls out his younger partner on his claims that abuse, when it happens, is prompted by something the woman has done and that more energy and resources should be dedicated to understanding the man and what pushed him into doing something so out of character (this becomes especially infuriating when we get to the big reveal at the end of the book). He lets the Twitter troll off at the end of the novel, because he feels bad for him and buys into the "he's unhappy so he can't be dangerous" mentality. It's not because he's malicious, or deliberately buying into the cultural acceptance of male violence towards women - he just doesn't know any better. And because he's almost sixty, he doesn't have the mental energy or the capacity to learn, or even think that he should. And that's one of the most infuriating things of this novel - he's not bad. He's not bad. He's just oblivious, and set in his ways, and he thinks that because he's not actively doing harm, that's enough.
And that brings me to Jamie, the main abusive boyfriend of the novel. He is kind of the prototypical abusive boyfriend of all television shows and twisty, creepy murder mysteries: he gaslights her; he isolates her; he belittles her and her friends and her past and her goals; he rapes her; and, when she starts to pull away, he sets their house on fire and convinces her that she's done it. And, through it all, he's convinced her and her friends and her dying mum that she needs him because he's reliable, and he takes care of her, and he loves her so much. It's horrible. It's so achingly realistic, in all the tiny details that stack up and in how Katie becomes lost in the fog that he's created around her, that I felt the physicality of her fear and her discomfort and her resignation to his completely taking control of her life. And then - AND THEN - at the very end of the novel, we find out that one of the police officers investigating her suicide is Jamie. Katie changed her name and moved up north, abandoning her family and her friends - she didn't feel safe going to her own mother's funeral -, she went into hiding, she disappeared herself to escape this man. And this guy, THIS GUY, gets hired as a police officer. Without having to change his name, or hide his past. He set his girlfriend's house on fire, followed her, stalked her, terrified her into killing herself or actually murdered her - it's very strongly indicated that he may have been the one to push her off the bridge. Her 'suicide note' was a note that she left him when she ran away from him, and he plants it as a legitimate suicide note. And nothing. Ever. Happens. To. Him. He gets away with it. He gets away with it. His last action in the novel is going on a date with a new girl. And the fact that that big reveal feels, simultaneously, like a massive reveal and just a common occurrence made me so sad, and so depressed, I had to immediately go take a walk to clear my head. This novel is such a perfect, horrible encapsulation of how unfair the real world is when it comes to this topic it actually made me howl.
So, globally, this was a 'good' book. The situation was vividly painted, and pulled you in. The characterizations were excellent - they definitely got the author's goal across, and made the point she was trying make, even while they did something feel a bit too pat. And if she was trying to immerse you in a feeling of desperation and hopelessness, I certainly felt that too. The grimness and awfulness of the story and its ending, the way nobody gets what they deserve, certainly brings home certain harsh truths. But I can't recommend this book, especially not in these current circumstances - there is nothing about this book that makes it a pleasant read, even though from an objective point of view, it is a book that does exactly what it's author wants it to do and there is a huge sense of accomplishment in that.
I need to go immediately read something a bit more cheerful. Midnight Sun, anybody?
Ugh. All the ugh.
Yours faithfully in reading,