Thursday, September 10, 2015

First cut

Whilst looking at the contents of my Kindle whilst connected to a computer, I discovered that it contained an unfamiliar title written by Peter Robinson, "First cut" (or maybe "The first cut"). It has happened that Robinson's books get republished under different titles, so I wasn't initially sure whether I had already read this book or whether it was new to me. It certainly was not stored in the Robinson collection on the Kindle which is why it had escaped my previous attention. 

The book contains alternate chapters from the point of view of two characters, Martha and Kirsten; later on, Martha disappears and is replaced by Susan. At first, the story seemed totally unfamiliar, but after a while I had a sense of deja vu, which was later authenticated by one character's name. I then realised that I was reading what was - or would later become - the back story in another Robinson book ("Friend of the devil"). 

Robinson himself writes in an afterword that the book was written after four Inspector Banks novels then cast aside and published only much later. This means that the book existed prior to "Friend of the devil". Of course, having finished "First Cut", I had to commence reading "Friend" in order to see how the stories connected. I have to admit that "Friend" is not one of my favourite Robinson novels and I've only read it two or three times; the inclusion of the backstory - what transpires to be the events of "First Cut" - always seemed to be a little forced; this time, I will be checking closely how the previous story is woven into the fabric of "Friend". 

"First cut" is a non-Banks story, telling events from the point of view of a victim. <Spoiler alert> Kirsten finishes her English degree then gets brutally attacked. Fortunately she is discovered before she dies of her wounds, but she initially remembers nothing of what happens. During the chapters from her POV, she undergoes a period of convalescence, both physical and mental. She sees a psychiatrist, and on the recommendation of the police, begins a series of treatment by hypnosis. At first, she remembers nothing but later manages to remember a face, an accent and a smell. Kirsten reads in the newspapers about six other girls who were attacked and killed in a very similar manner to which she was attacked. 

Enter Martha: her story is interwoven with that of Kirsten, but actually takes place a year later. What the reader does not know at first is that Martha *is* Kirsten: the face, accent and smell have lead her to a small Yorkshire town on the seaside, where she is certain her attacker is based. Her chapters tell how she tries to identify the man who attacked her; at first, her memory misleads her but later she finds the correct man. <End of spoiler alert> 

Robinson shows his background in English (he has a PhD!) very subtly at one point: Kirsten and her friend are discussing Thomas Hardy and how he uses metaphors to write about the erotic in Victorian times; there is a neat discussion of images used during a hanging. Those who don't pay attention to this discussion may miss that the name of the woman being hanged is Martha Browne. A bit later on, Kirsten reads "Jude the Obscure" ... and Martha Browne metamorphises into Susan Bridehead - the cousin and wife (at times) of the titular Jude. This tidbit seems to have escaped most reviewers. 

I found it very difficult to read "First cut" as a first time reader as I knew near enough what was going to happen. Of course, whenever I reread a book, I know what is going to happen, which allows me to concentrate on appreciating the writing without having to give so much attention to finding out what happens in the book. So, presumably, when I next read "First cut", I will be able to appreciate it more. I'll probably reread it after I finish "Friend of the devil".

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