He Said/She Said, by Erin Kelly

Eight stars

In a book that has garnered much attention on Goodreads, Erin Kelly treats the reader to a unique spin on an oft presented scenario. Splitting the story between an evolving past narrative and one set in 2015, Kelly leaves the reader unsure where to focus much of their attention. A complete solar eclipse is days away, which has Kit making all the last-minute preparations for an event he has marvelled seeing since 1991. Less excited is his wife, Laura, who is six months pregnant with twins. Their joint concern is not the crowds or the sun’s glare, but the potential sighting of ‘Beth’, who appears to be stalking them. It is only as the story progresses that the reader learns of events that transpired at the eclipse of 1999, where Laura came upon Beth and Jamie Balcombe, engaged in some primal sexual encounter. Laura was sure it was rape and alerted the authorities of this, while Jamie did all he can to convince her otherwise. Beth remained silent, though Laura would not let the victim’s state of shock allow a rapist to roam free. With the evidence collected, the matter was brought to trial, where Laura testified that she heard a faint ‘no’ uttered during the encounter. Balcombe presented a defence that it was only a rough sexual encounter, but completely consensual. After the trial and a guilty verdict, Kit and Laura found Beth showing up at their flat and trying to forge a friendship while supporters of Balcombe do all they could to smear the victim through any means necessary. Laura had to come to terms with what she saw, Kit stood by her, and Beth accepts nothing less than total belief that she was a victim in all this. With brief glimpses into the present, Kit violates the cardinal rule of staying off the radar, which begins a series of events that could have dire consequences. As the narrative picks up momentum, the reader learns more about eclipses, both solar and character, which flavours the story and offers many twists that take the story in unexpected directions. An entertaining psychological thriller that provides readers with a chilling view into the power of perception. Worth a read, even if the hype might be a little overdone.

I had heard and seen much about this over the past while and thought I would take up the recommendation of a friend of mine to give it a whirl. Kelly offers the reader some interesting perspectives as it comes to character development, building a persona in both the past and present simultaneously. The central cast develops and regresses throughout, depending on the perspective used. This forces the reader to balance everything before making a final determination on guilt or innocence. Using the solar eclipse, both literal and metaphorical, serves to present the reader with the essential aspects of the story, whereby the characters shine at moments and scurry away to hide at others. However, once all is revealed, there is an anti-climactic moment and a rush to understand what has just happened. Kelly builds the narrative up throughout and keeps the reader wondering, but also serves up large twists at just the right moment to turn the story on its head. This shows not only superior skill but also pulls the reader in and leaves them wanting more, even when the road ahead is, seemingly, free from any more surprises. 

If I might offer a single criticism that I feel jolted me out of the smooth delivery, it would be the use of legal terms during the trial portion of the book. Kelly flips between British and American legal terminology at will. While this might not disrupt the reader’s attention span, it left me confused and returning to double check the jargon, where I noticed the repeated error. Perhaps during the subsequent re-release of the book these erroneous phrases will be tightened up and the proofreaders scolded. 

Kudos, Madam Kelly for putting together this wonderful piece. I found myself enthralled at certain points and begging for more at others.