Book review: When She Was Good by Michael Robotham
When She Was Good - Michael Robotham
Although I don't need any convincing when it comes to Michael Robotham's credentials as a great writer of crime fiction, I was quite impressed with the direction he had taken with Good Girl, Bad Girl and was looking forward to seeing where he would take new characters Cyrus and Evie. The murder mystery plot of the first book wasn't Robotham's most adventurous, owing a little to Twin Peaks, but it was clear that there were two intriguing damaged characters here that held great potential. When She Was Good however quickly shows that there is clear intent to delve further into their complicated backgrounds.
Aside from the unusual talent for being able to tell when someone is lying to her, it was clear that there was a dark backstory to Evie's Cormac's experiences. Confined now to protective care in a children's institution, there were indications of some kind of abuse in her past. Found in an empty house where a man had been tortured to death, Evie is clearly a damaged figure. Now approaching her presumed 18th birthday, she still has a way of getting into trouble and it raises doubts about her ability to fend for herself in the outside world.
Which is where Cyrus Haven comes in. As a forensic psychologist for the Midlands Police Force, Cyrus isn't a million miles away from Joe McLoughlin, the protagonist of a series of terrific books series of books by Robotham, but he also has a troubled family history that has allowed a trusting relationship to develop between him and Evie. Which is as well, as Evie has an unusual ability to be able to tell with almost complete accuracy when someone is lying to her. It's a handy skill to have playing poker or for doing a little investigation for Cyrus, but a bit of a curse when you don't know why someone is lying and when it's you they are lying about. It might be one step closer to the truth, but even the truth can't be trusted.
Having pushed their relationship to the limits on a dangerous case in Good Girl Bad Girl, and in the process ensuring that there was no possibility of Cyrus looking after Evie on any long term basis, Robotham makes it clear very early on that it's Evie's history that is going to come very much to the fore in When She Was Good. Cyrus has been asking questions about Evie's background, but he's not the only one. It appears like there are some very dangerous determined people wanting to find the girl known as 'Angel Face'. What is worse is that Cyrus might be inadvertently leading these men towards finding Evie through his questioning and investigations.
Again using the format of viewing matters from the alternate first person viewpoints of Cyrus and Evie, the first two chapters of When She Was Good are a sheer joy of superb fluid writing that immediately draws you into the mystery of Evie's unknown origins, a mystery that everyone is either reluctant to speak about or know suspiciously very little. That's followed by an amusing situation that describes the nature of Evie and her ability to cause trouble wherever she goes quite brilliantly. If you haven't met Cyrus and Evie before, Robotham captures the essence of both and the whole tone of this series brilliantly in the first two chapters. Consider yourself hooked.
It soon becomes apparent that there may be a very good reason why there is an air of secrecy over Evie's origins and background, and why even Evie doesn't want to speak about it. A great deal of her shocking backstory comes tumbling out and there are certain aspects that you might already have guessed from the hints in the previous book. What is interesting about When She Was Good is that Cyrus and Evie rarely meet up in this second book, but yet from what we learn about both of them, the bond between them deepens. The case very much brings out traumatic episodes in their lives that in some way defines who they are and how they see the world.
The actual treatment of the crime thriller aspects are more satisfying here than in the previous book since they are more closely related to the characters with revelations that serve to define them well, but When She Was Good does still feel a little mechanical in its plotting. There are one or two shocks here and certainly a few emotional punches to the gut, but no real surprises. I think I might have been expecting a little more originality from Robotham after his last Joe McLoughlin (The Other Wife) and his last standalone thriller (The Secrets She Keeps) and hoped that we might see more of these characters than a two book series, but as it is, Robotham resolves matters in a highly satisfactory way and with customary flair.