Helen FitzGerald is an Australian writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. My Last Confession, her second novel, is billed as “intelligent chick-lit” although I’m not sure it entirely fits into that genre, because it’s also a thriller and has a dark noirish edge running through it. Littered as it is with drugs, violence, incest and male rape, this is no fluffy, comforting read, but an electrifying one that will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next.
A fresh start
The story is narrated by Krissie, a single mum who’s spent the past couple of years living in her parent’s spare bedroom with her artist boyfriend Chas, while they get their lives in order. Now determined to forge a new life together, the couple move out and Krissie lands herself a job as a “criminal justice social worker”, more commonly known as a parole officer.
Things start well when she exposes a client’s secret plan to live with the children he is convicted of sexually abusing when he is released from prison. “With my first pre-release meeting fresh in my mind, I felt on top of the world, ready for anything,” she says. “Hell, I was shit hot.”
But it’s her second client, a man accused of murdering his mother-in-law, which lands her in hot water. Convinced that he couldn’t possibly have committed such a gruesome, brutal crime, Krissie does a spot of private investigating that puts her life and the lives of her loved ones in danger. Or, as she puts it on the first page, in her “tips for parole officers”:
1. Don’t smuggle heroin into prison.
2. Don’t drink vodka to relieve stress.
3. Don’t French-kiss a colleague to get your boyfriend jealous.
4. Don’t snort speed.
5. Don’t spend more time with murderers than with your son.
6. Don’t invite crack-head clients to your party.
A fast-paced read
I raced through this book in two sittings. Krissie is a quirky kind of character, in many respects too naive for her own good. But it is her hire-wire act in which she struggles to come to grips with a new job while looking after a young child and trying not to jeopardise her relationship with Chas that makes her incredibly realistic. And despite her obvious flaws, she’s immensely likable helped by a very wicked self-deprecating sense of humour.
But what makes My Last Confession really work is not just the easy-flowing narrative (which occasionally switches into third-person) and great characterisation, but FitzGerald’s ability to shock the reader. On one page you can read about Krissie’s dreams of wearing a white wedding dress and on the next have the brutal intricacies of a woman being butchered thrust in your face. And the ending, which delivers a nice punch, ties everything up neatly and succinctly, making this a terrific and satisfying crime thriller, highly reminiscent of my old fave, Nicci French.
I’m now looking forward to reading FitzGerald’s debut novel, Dead Lovely, and her latest hardcover, The Devil’s Staircase, to see if she can maintain this high level of momentum.