Fiction – Kindle edition; Hodder & Stoughton; 320 pages; 2020.
Morally dubious characters are a mainstay of Sabine Durrant’s work, and Finders, Keepers, her latest novel, is no exception.
In this gripping story — which is right out of the Patricia Highsmith playbook — two women, poles apart in background and personality, develop a strange, obsessional relationship that culminates in a murder. As the pair dance around one another, their individual secrets are revealed one by one, in a carefully paced narrative filled with many a-ha! moments.
Told from the perspective of Verity, an eccentric woman in her 50s who makes her living working from home as a lexicographer for the English Oxford Dictionary, the story juxtaposes two narrative threads: a retrospective one that looks back on how Verity became friends with her neighbour Ailsa, and a current one that focuses on Ailsa’s new life awaiting trial for murder.
Murder by poisoning
When the book opens, Ailsa is staying with Verity after having spent several nights in a cell at the local police station. Someone has daubed “YOUR GUILTEY” in red paint on the front fence. We later learn that Ailsa’s husband has died, possibly from eating poisoned food, and that she has been charged with his murder. Her three children have been taken into care.
Verity, kind-hearted and eager to please, looks after her friend with unwavering devotion, the kind of devotion she had previously doled out to her aged mother, whom she cared for until her death five years earlier. Estranged from her only sister, Verity lives alone with only her dog Maudie for company.
Verity explains that when Ailsa moved in next door — after “13 months of drills and bulldozers, the clatter of scaffolding, the whining of saws, the bangs and shouts and music and oaths of the increasingly frantic builders” — it’s a relief that the renovations are over. She already knows that Ailsa, who works in HR, and her husband, Tom, who is a record company executive, have moved to London after a failed stint in Kent. She knows their taste in furniture and fittings (having seen it all delivered).
But their friendship gets off to a wonky start when Tom comes around to complain about the trees and ivy along the back fence (wanting her to cut everything back). Later, when she’s invited over for drinks (via a handwritten invitation on the back of a postcard), she drops by, unaware that it’s a thinly veiled attempt to convince her to clear up her garden.
This sets the tone for their friendship, though Verity seems genuinely unaware that she is being used or manipulated by both parties. Even when she begins (accidentally) tutoring their son, Max, who is struggling at school because of his dyslexia, Verity can never see it in herself to chase the promised payment.
Mutually dependent friendship
As the story unfolds and the two narratives, past and present, intertwine we begin to learn more and more about the ways in which these two women come to depend on one another, and we begin to see how Tom’s behaviour, bullying and rude, might have lead to his downfall.
Finders, Keepers is a clever, suspense-filled story, one that doesn’t follow all the conventional rules of the genre. It’s far from predictable and has the kind of satisfactory ending that makes you glad you took the time to read the book.
But it’s the characters that really make the story — the bitchy, manipulative Aisla, who is all sweetness and light whenever the spotlight is cast in her direction, is rather wonderful, yet it’s Verity, an oddball with her quirky interests, that gives the novel its real heart.
8 thoughts on “‘Finders, Keepers’ by Sabine Durrant”
I read my first Durrant on your recommendation and really enjoyed it. This one sounds excellent!
She’s such a great storyteller and I love that it’s not dumbed down fluff with predictable plots and stupid OTT endings.
I keep crime/thriller novels for audiobooks while I’m working. I really enjoy Ian Rankin for instance but I couldn’t imagine making time to sit down and read him. To be honest, most of my ‘real’ reading is worthy books for my blog. Actually enjoyable books are quite rare, mostly accidents like the recent Normal People. Hopefully my next library will have a Durrant and I will remember your review.
I’ve read a few of Durrant’s novels and I reckon her best one is Lie With Me about a dastardly narcissistic writer who wheedles his way into one poor suspecting woman’s life and then gate crashes her Greek island holiday. It’s a great romp!
I love Sabine Durrant and this sounds great!
Yes, I think we had the same conversation after the last Sabine Durrant book I reviewed a couple of months ago 😊 This one is excellent!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh dear, sorry to be so repetitive! I think this is the only one of hers I haven’t read so I need to get on it 🙂
No need to apologise! It’s great to discover a fellow fan. I still need to read her two earlier novels. Not sure if they’re still in print…
LikeLiked by 1 person