Last January I was one of the lucky bloggers to get a super early review copy of Tastes Like Fear, the third installment in the Marnie Rome series by Sarah Hilary. If you have not heard about the series, Marnie Rome or Sarah Hilary, I highly recommend you skip this review and check my review of Someone Else’s Skin (# 1) here or an interview with Sarah Hilary in which she discusses crime fiction, and the Marnie Rome series here, or check our talk about feminism and women writers here.
If you have continued reading I can then start my enthusiastic review of Tastes Like Fear. Like No Other Darkness, Tastes Like Fear starts soon after the previous book finished, which is something that has become typical of the series, and which I really appreciate because it allows for a more complex character development. We meet Marnie and Noah barely six months after the previous novel, with Sol still living with Noah and Dan, and Marnie spending an important amount of time at Ed’s flat, and with Stephen Keele still trying to call Marnie’s attention. This time, Marnie’s team find themselves investigating the appearance of a nearly naked young girl in the streets of London, who caused a traffic accident in which a teenager died and a young mother has been left in a critical state. That girl could be May Beswick, the white, middle-class girl who has been missing for three months. But what is she doing at the Garrett, one of the poorest and most troublesome neighbourhoods of London? And why was she running away, nearly naked and disoriented? And, most importantly, where did she go after causing the accident?
As she did in the previous novels, Hilary creates two parallel stories: Marnie’s team, and the victims’. This narrative strategy offers the reader a much more complex approach to the story because it allows us to experiment the tension between what is happening with the victims, and the developments in Marnie’s team to catch the criminal before he/she does more harm. In Tastes Like Fear Hilary has mastered her own craft and offers four of the victims’ points of view, each of them different, and with different interests in mind. Contrary to what happened in previous installments, we do not get access to the killer, although I think recent crime fiction is paying more and more attention to victims, since they are the raison d’être of the genre. With this diversity, Hilary is portraying different responses to situations in which we can feel in danger, or that cause us extreme anxiety. We think we would do if we were robbed, or kidnapped, or hold at gun point, but we have no idea how we would react, and Hilary explores the surprising ways in which victims can behave in a masterful, and detailed way.
Tastes Like Fear also includes a new character: the city of London. Space and place had been quite important in previous novels in the series, but in this one Hilary pays special attention to the ways in which we interact with a city. The urban space is race, gender, and sexuality constructed: there are places a ‘good’, middle-class, heterosexual girl like May should not go, and where she would call everyone’s attention. We are given an insider’s view thanks to DS Noah Jake, who grew up in a state similar to the Garrett and knows the allegiances and the prescriptive behavioural codes that come from social pressure. As a homosexual cop, born and raised in communal living, he finds himself in an inbetween: neither on Marnie’s part, nor on the people at the Garrett’s, allowing for an exploration of his identity, and the many ways in which we can construct and change ourselves.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of a lot of diverse teenager voices. I have already commented on the necessity to portray teenage girls in fiction more frequently, like Abbott does, because, needless to say, they are part of society. Hilary pays attention to those teenagers who feel the need to escape their supposedly comfortable, middle-class homes searching for something more. She also describes how many of these teenagers use the urban space and the city to rebel against their parents, who would rather have them in gender and class appropriate spaces. Teenage years are quite difficult because we experiment a lot of changes in both our bodies and our minds, and sometimes it is hard to negotiate those changes with your environment. I had the greatest of times by Hilary’s portrayal of three teenagers – two boys and a girl – who are drinking beer, and eating expensive crisps in the subway, with their Doctor Marents boots and warm coats protecting them from the cold before they finally return to their homes. This is not what rough life as a homeless teenager feels like, and the book makes a point of highlighting the difference letting rebellious teenagers know they do not really know how hard it is while never overlooking pain. For this reason I would suggest Tastes Like Fear as a reading for young people who enjoy crime fiction participating in the #ReadWomen and #ReadDiverse projects.
And, more importantly, this book is important for women in crime fiction because the female victims are given a voice, even when they are dead, Hilary manages to make them feel important, to make the reader see that a female corpse, dumped in the garbage deserves respect, although it can be very difficult, even for people as experimented as DI Marnie Rome, to treat them:
Fran knelt at the dead girl’s side, studying her swollen face before touching gloved fingers tenderly to the bruises. Marine stayed back, not speaking, watching Fran work. Her presence made the scene feel less like an annihilation. She was taking the temperature of the crime, finding its pulse, feeling for its edges. Until now, Marnie had wanted to cover the dead girl, hide her from prying eyes. She’s seen the way Ron had looked at the body, embarrassed and angry. A teenage girl dumped like garbage, appallingly vulnerable. With Fran kneeling beside her, she looked safe.
Tastes Like Fear is the best in the Marnie Rome series until now, and I can see how Sarah Hilary is mastering her own art. However, I am a bit worried about the future of the series. Noah Jake is slowly becoming a more interesting and more central character to the series, while Marnie is falling back into very dark times. It does not help that Hilary herself conducted a poll on Twitter asking readers who should die next in the series: Noah, Marnie, or Ed. Although I would be happy to spend more time with Noah, I can only hope Marnie does not die, since she is one of the strongest women detective in contemporary crime fiction (also, making her go through yet another tragic death is not fair, Sarah!).
Tastes Like Fear is out today. Be sure to grab a copy!