I'm a big fan of Sophie Hannah's novels, as any regular readers of this blog will probably know. Kind of Cruel had one of the oddest premises yet. Amber suffers from severe insomnia after the death of her friend in an arson attack two years earlier which landed her as guardian of her two children. She finally visits a hypnotherapist and the words 'Kind, Cruel, Kind of Cruel' come back to her for no reason she can think of. She accosts a woman she saw writing just before her appointment to ask her if she'd seen the words in her notebook - unfortunately, this woman happens to be police officer Charlie Zailer and Amber suddenly finds herself embroiled in a murder investigation. The words happen to be the only clue that the police have in the investigation of another murder, that of primary school teacher Kat Allen. However, these things aren't the only ones worrying Amber: she periodically wonders why her sister-in-law and her family disappeared on Christmas Day in 2003 before returning the next day without a word.
That explanation is as succinct as it gets, I'm afraid! The plot is so tightly wound that you really need to be awake to follow it but, as I've found with all of Hannah's books, it's a satisfying one. The 'who' gradually becomes clear but the 'why' is still up for grabs right until the final pages. Amber's scenes with hypnotherapist Ginny were intriguing and well-researched, raising some excellent points about memory and lies. Equally, the serial elements of the books were not neglected - the relationship problems between Charlie and Simon Waterhouse are as potent as ever. What I wasn't expecting, though, were the laugh-out-loud scenes involving DI Giles Proust at the beginning of the novel. I don't think I've ever laughed so much at a crime novel of any variety. The character's become something of a legend in these books but this time he really surpassed himself. I get the feeling Hannah likes writing him as much as her readers enjoy the finished result.
All in all, I think Kind of Cruel is close to the top of my list of Hannah's fiction. It had a brilliantly intricate plot combined with forward-movement of serial elements and made me think: what more can you ask for in a book?