An intelligent, erotically charged thriller with deep moral implications Yvonne Carmichael, renowned geneticist, public authority, happily married mother of two, sits in the accused box. The charge is murder. Across the courtroom, not meeting her eye, sits her alleged accomplice. He wears the beautiful pin-striped suit he wore on their first meeting in the Houses of Parliament, when he put his hand on her elbow, guided her to a deserted and ancient chapel, and began to undress her. As the barrister’s voice grows low and sinuous, Yvonne realizes she’s lost herself and the life she’d built so carefully to a man who never existed at all. After their first liaison, Yvonne’s lover tells her very little about himself, but she comes to suspect his secrecy has an explanation connected with the British government. So thrilled and absorbed is she in her newfound sexual power that she fails to notice the real danger about to blindside her from a seemingly innocuous angle. Then, reeling from an act of violence, Yvonne discovers that her desire for justice and revenge has already been compromised. Everything hinges on one night in a dark little alley called Apple Tree Yard.
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There was Eve and that forbidden apple, Snow White and her poisonous apple, and here is Yvonne Carmichael, and her 'apple' of sorts -- a damning lie about Apple Tree Yard, a back alley near the House of Parliament where Yvonne and her former lover now sit, on trial for murder. A slow, but blunt start, this novel picks up speed like a sprinter and holds the listener in its slipstream until the very last sentence. I couldn't put it down, except for a few times when it was necessary to shake out the tension.
Doughty's novel is an intelligent, cleverly constructed suspense thriller, at times sharp, provocative, frank and straight forward, twisting into unexpected moments of beautiful prose and searing insight. This is a book that leads you into moral judgements, then has you chucking them aside, looking closer at substance and shadows. The author's depiction of the modern day woman and the duality of roles is brilliant : does good mother mean no career? earns half the income, so half the housework? does a philandering husband suffer the same scrutiny as an adulterous wife? are middle-aged men judged as harshly as middle-aged women?
The book begins by revealing the ending, but it is the last couple of sentences that pull the trigger. The first person narrative is done in the style of an imaginary retrospective letter Yvonne reads to her former lover (whom she calls only 'X' for most of the book) while she awaits questioning. Her cool professional style paints the events in a glaring, harsh light; the almost scientific delivery void of emotion, adding to the mystery and drama surrounding this crime...of passion ? "DNA made me and DNA undid me." While the pragmatic approach may slow down the launch, it's what develops the psychological arc of the story. Cutting in and out of the past and present, Yvonne selectively discloses the chain of events that propelled the two lovers to this tragic end. The details are rationed out like steamy little bits with just hints of everyday family life, dropped in like speed bumps as the affair proceeds with lightning rapidity. “In 18 months' time, I would discover that his blood group was O Positive.” A few moments later, the narration is thrust to the present, a black-robed barrister closing in.
Doughty's courtroom scenes make you understand the term *sweating bullets* -- they are deliberate and tense, as wonderfully agonizing as a poisonous spider crawling up an arm. Yvonne's facts begin to hint at the slightest insecurities about being an aging female. The barrister seems over confident. You feel the hold you thought you had on the truth slipping away and find yourself asking, where is the deceit. Is it the experienced lover that emphasized constantly to never admit the affair, there is no way to prove the affair, no evidence....or Yvonne herself, the respected 52 yr. old geneticist with "status and gravitas...when I don't have my tights round my ankles in a secluded chapel beneath the house of Parliament, that is." The truth is somewhere between the lines in Yvonne's narration. Yvonne may not elicit sympathy from readers, but she isn't deserving of the scarlet letter. She feels real and vulnerable, even similar to some modern professional women you may have met.
I wondered why this was placed on that curtained-off bottom shelf of Erotica & Sexuality, not a genre I usually choose. Call me kinky, but I would say more spicy than erotic; a tightly woven courtroom drama/psychological thriller (for men & women), that is definitely sexually and erotically charged -- deserving more of a full-frontal shelf in Fiction (since Henry Miller, Anais Niin, D. H. Lawrence are stacked in those shelves). Add cautionary tale to the many genres tagged to this book: one impulsive bad choice can upset the whole apple barrel.
Juliet Stevenson infuses pathos and melancholy into a dreamy, naive protagonist who becomes entrapped in what proves to be a rather mundane murder. The story is told first-person from the protagonist's viewpoint and she addresses her thoughts to a unnamed "you," the man with whom she engages in an improbable affair. For most of the novel, the real mystery is figuring out who the man really is, his motivations and his true feelings for the protagonist. We don't even know his name until more than two-thirds of the way into the story. I found the device wore very thin and I probably would have bailed were it not for Stevenson's expert reading. As it turned out, I am glad I stuck with it because I do think the novel had some intriguing elements and the writing is excellent in parts, with interesting characterizations. By the end it was clear Doughty meant this to be, in part, a play on the techniques of storytelling. At one point in the protagonist's trial, she observes, "I realized that all one needs for a story is a collection of facts." Yes, that and few more things, and maybe especially a consummate actress like Juliet Stevenson reading your stuff.