THE COUPLE AT THE TABLE by Sophie Hannah

THE COUPLE AT THE TABLE

Sophie Hannah (sophiehannah.com)

Hodder & Stoughton (hodder.co.uk)

£16.99

It is six months since Jane Brinkwood was stabbed to death, and the crime remains unsolved. When new evidence comes to light, forcing DC Simon Waterhouse and his teams to re-interview the other people who were at the luxury Tevendon Resort at the time, it becomes obvious that many of them have been keeping important information to themselves or, in some cases, outright lying to the police. As the investigation begins to gather pace once more, Waterhouse begins to form a picture of exactly what happened on that warm July evening, and to understand the relationships between the people that were at Tevendon when Jane Brinkwood died.

I’m a newcomer to Sophie Hannah’s work but have heard good things, so was keen to read The Couple at the Table, despite it being the latest book featuring series characters Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse and his wife Sergeant Charlie Zailer. In this outing they find themselves at the centre of a murder investigation as someone offs Jane Brinkwood at the luxury couples-only Tevendon Resort while Waterhouse and Zailer are there as guests. Hannah sets up an impossible-to-solve mystery that wouldn’t feel out of place in the works of Conan Doyle or Christie.

While the story unfolds from multiple viewpoints, Lucy Dean is presented as one of the key characters, her chapters presented in the first person. And she’s definitely the most invested in the plot: Jane Brinkwood was her doula when she was pregnant with her daughter. Jane is also at Tevenden on her honeymoon after marrying Lucy’s ex-husband, William, who she stole while working for Lucy. There’s more motive there than you can shake a stick at, but Lucy has found a new man and has been friends with Jane and William for some time now. Lucy is the driving force behind the investigation, her interference providing fresh fodder for the police. She is an intensely unlikable character, and her interference feels forced and unlikely.

As I read The Couple at the Table, I got the feeling that it started life as a plot for one of Hannah’s Poirot novels. From the exclusive resort, to the class divisions between the various guests. And the most telling due? “The Gathering.” I can’t think of a modern police procedural where the lead investigator gathers all the suspects in a room and talks at them for a period of time. It almost feels as if DC Waterhouse, DS Zailer and the rest of the team were shoe-horned in at a later date, leaving the story feeling somewhat disjointed in places.

In the plus column, The Couple at the Table has an intriguing mystery at its heart. It’s difficult to read the premise and not want to find out the solution. This is enough to keep the pages turning. That aside, it’s a disjointed and – at times – poorly-written narrative with more than one inexplicable hole. This reader would have been a lot happier to see Christie’s Belgian detective in the driving seat. If you can get past the novel’s bad points, it’s a worthwhile read for the cleverness of the central mystery, but maybe one best left for the aeroplane or beach!

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