I received an ARC of Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce as a surprise gift from my blogger friend Danielle, who in turn had received it at New Voices 2019, I had enjoyed Danielle’s post about the event, so was extra pleased she’d thought to send me this book. Blood Orange is published today by Wildfire an imprint of Headline.
Blood Orange is Tyce’s debut novel, it’s a dark domestic noir which will put her firmly on the radar of many readers. The plot is as taut as a tightrope and just as vertiginously thrilling. The narrative is without affectation; succinct, tense and viscerally raw in places. The blood orange motif is a striking and clever one, which works well on several levels. This book had me gripped all the way through, with that conflict in the latter chapters which is the hallmark of all great books: racing towards the conclusion versus savouring every development.
I found the protagonist, Alison, a conundrum at first. Early in the novel she stays out all night getting falling-down drunk with colleagues and having a rough fumble in a dirty alley which literally leaves her with shit on her hand. Fine, except she has a young daughter waiting at home with her husband who balances part-time work with childcare and housekeeping. Call me judgemental, but Alison does not seem an easy person to like. Yet I found myself unable to dislike her either. She says she wants to change and while on the surface she has it all (husband, child, career, social life); a happy or fulfilled person wouldn’t regularly drink to oblivion, or cheat with someone who she knows will treat her like dirt. I was compelled to keep turning pages and find out why she’s on this self destructive path. Alison is then given her first murder case, the defence of Madeleine who confesses to stabbing her husband but offers no mitigation. If it seems too clear cut, that’s because it probably is. There is also something off about Alison’s husband, when she attempts to do more at home, he demeans her efforts and criticises her dedication to her career in the same breath. Is it really a case of him being a more capable parent and Alison not being a ‘natural’ mother? Is it a manifestation of his resentment about her career success? Or is it something more sinister? As Alison delves deeper into Madeleine’s case and tries to convince Madeleine to defend herself, her focus starts to sharpen and Alison begins to see her own situation more clearly too.
The peeling away of the layers in this psychological thriller held me rapt. Tyce’s writing is addictive and I came to admire the portrayal of Alison, so refreshing and brave in its stark honesty. The pace is just right and the plot developments are enthralling. The intricacies of the legal setting are well described, a showcase of Tyce’s knowledge gained through her decade-long career as a barrister. There are two good reasons to read this book: because you enjoy a great thriller, or because you’re a cool hunter who wants to hold their own around the office water cooler or at dinner parties. In either case, you’ll be glad you did, because Blood Orange is already being lauded as the thriller of 2019.