BOOK REVIEW: The Right Wrong Thing by Ellen Kirschman

The Right Wrong ThingDr Dot Meyerhoff, police psychologist, clears the first female officer to join Kenilworth Police Department. However days later, the officer, Randy Spelling, freezes in the face of danger, risking the life of her partner, and inciting the wrath of the entire department. No sooner has she come to terms with this mistake, when she makes another: fatally shooting a pregnant, unarmed teenager in a routine stop. The consequences of Randy’s actions are far reaching, not least for Dr Meyerhoff who, despite all advice to the contrary, involves herself in the case, risking not only her career, but also her life.

A well-written story that kept me interested from start to finish, The Right Wrong Thing deals with a number of enormously important issues in modern society: sexism, racism, police brutality and post-traumatic stress disorder. But don’t let that deter you; this is still an extremely heartfelt novel. We see each issue as it affects the families and individuals around which the story is crafted. Kirschman cleverly draws you in to each character’s world, makes you feel sympathy or anger or disdain and then completely turns the world on its head so what you knew to be up, is now down, what you were sure was right, is now wrong.

Kirschman herself has more than thirty years’ experience as a psychologist for first responders and this shines through in her writing. Her knowledge of police procedures and department politics gives this novel the depth it needs to carry the drama. The dialogue is smart and moves the story along well, and the characters are interesting enough draw you back for more. Meyerhoff is particularly appealing: she has such a charming humanity about her, aware of her failings and trying hard to do right by the good people in her life. She’s an older, hugely experienced woman working in a very masculine environment. It would’ve been easy for Kirschman to write her as the hard-nosed bitch, but this gentle, yet still hugely capable woman is captivating, and I would argue, extremely relatable to millions of career-minded women in the world.

My only gripe: why is this incredibly intelligent, massively experienced professional risking her career and her life on this one case? Meyerhoff makes a lot of reckless moves that frustrated me to the point of anger. Frankly, it was unfeasible. And the ending was far too cheesy for my liking. But, suspend your disbelief for the duration, and you won’t be disappointed by Kirschman, Meyerhoff or the cops of Kenilworth PD.

BOOK REVIEW: Beneath the Lake by Christopher Ransom

Beneath the LakeOn a seemingly perfect camping trip at Blundstone Lake, Nebraska, the Mercer family find themselves embroiled in another family’s violence. The Mercers are forced to take action, and then to live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. Thirty years later, Ray, the youngest of the Mercers, is summoned from his life of coasting, to a family reunion at the lake. There, they must confront the past if there is to be any hope of a future.

A glorious sense of unease drifted through this book, like fog on a winter’s night; rising, falling but never truly dissipating. From the opening drama, which is never fully explained, to the final climax there is an eerie tension that promised a great deal.

We first meet the Mercers part way through their holiday, and each character is artfully drawn: their strengths, their flaws, their relationships with one another, all beautifully defined and relatable to any modern day family. The Mercers and the mystery of the opening chapters had me clamouring for more, but unfortunately the rest of the story didn’t carry the same momentum.

Intrigue dissolved into indifference and confusion: there was a supernatural element to this story that felt muddled. This was further complicated by poor pacing: instead of arcing to a crescendo, the story peaked in a number of places and then fell flat again. A few times I was certain I had reached the conclusion, only to find there was another ‘encounter’ to be had, with no clearer explanation than before. The story jumped between the present day and the events of thirty years ago, at times rewriting those events. At times I was so unsure of what had actually happened, my frustration tempted me to abandon the book altogether. And the ending was such a disappointment, I now wish I had!

Christopher Ransom is a fantastic writer, his debut novel, The Birthing House, is proof of that, and there is evidence in Beneath the Lake that that talent still exists. But the rhythm and pacing of this book are its downfall.