Lots of books that I’ve read recently have either referenced Daphne du Maurier in them, or have been marketed as inspired by du Maurier’s writing. I’m not sure where all this interest in her has materialized from (or if I’ve been blind to it before and am only just noticing it) but as she’s my favourite writer, I’m enjoying seeing all the comparisons and mentions of her.
I only mention this because Daphne du Maurier is mentioned as one of Imogen Rochester’s favourite writers in Sticks and Stones, and that made me notice the trend beginning to emerge in other books.
Sticks and Stones is Jo Jakeman’s debut thriller novel, and it’s very impressive. It’s pacy, with twists and turns galore, taking the theme of the ‘wronged woman’ to a whole new level.
Imogen Rochester is soon to be divorced from her husband Phillip. It’s messy and complicated: Phillip left Imogen, and their son, for a younger woman whom he now lives with. He’s seeking extra visits with Alistair than Imogen is comfortable allowing, and also wants the house as part of the divorce. As he’s a police officer, Imogen knows he’ll use whatever knowledge and contacts he has to win this battle, to brush off any accusations she might make. But she won’t give up, not when she has her son to protect.
There comes a moment when emotions run high and the situation spirals out of control, yet Imogen realises she has the upper hand for once. The question remains whether she can hold onto this power. The only thing she knows for certain is that the arrival of Phillip’s new fiancé and his first wife at her house is going to complicate everything further.
Together, they make a holy (or unholy, depending on your perspective) trinity of women – but will they always be vying for prime position in their dynamics, or can they find a way to set differences aside and work together?
What I really loved about Sticks and Stones was the way it was structured. We start at the end – literally. The first chapter takes place at Phillip’s funeral (Harvill Secker kindly provided me with an order of service, as well as a proof of the book). Then, starting 22 days previously, we take the journey with Imogen to find out exactly how everyone ended up in the situation they did. I thought it was a clever way to add further tension to the unpredictable plot unfurling before us.
I thought that the ‘thrilling’ aspects were very well done. One chapter in particular literally made me gasp – it was so intense, playing the action moment by moment. The definition of ‘couldn’t tear myself away from the book’ kind of gripping. While the final twist was incredible, I did think that there were a couple too many in the final third of the book (for my liking anyway). In isolation, they all worked, but when put together, felt a bit too much. I’d have liked for the pace to slow just a little, to give the moments time to settle and breathe, before picking up again for the finale. I do understand why it may have been done this way, to maintain momentum, and I’m positive that lots of readers will love this. For me, though, it was overwhelming in those final lead-up chapters.
Jakeman’s portrayal of domestic abuse was good, specifically relating to the many forms it may take, and how different women will experience it.
Imogen’s desire to protect her son was poignant, and the addition of her co-worker Rachel as a confident, supportive figure was fantastic. Naomi and Ruby were great counter-points to Imogen as well – three very different women connected by one man. Their changing relationships with each other was portrayed fantastically – they came to rely on each other, but there was always underlying jealousy and distrust. As so much of the story is told from Imogen’s perspective, we saw how these emotions came into play, and increased the intrigue building throughout. We were never really sure who could be trusted, or who was telling the truth.
“I expected to feel free, unburdened, but when the curtains closed around Phillip Rochester’s satin-lined coffin all I felt was indigestion…”
Humour is used to great effect in Sticks and Stones. Jakeman has a real skill for that dark, gallows humour, for creating those moments where you know you shouldn’t laugh, but you can’t help it. I found it broke the tension without destroying the momentum, if that makes sense.
I can tell that this book will be very popular with readers of thriller fiction. It has all the staple elements that makes the genre so well loved, but Jakeman adds her own flourishes that stand out from the rest. I thought the concept of focussing on three women in relation to the one man provided further scope to explore the violent themes, and allowed for further unpredictability. I maintain that, for my own enjoyment, there were a few too many plot twists as the plot neared its conclusion. That being said, though, Jakeman has produced a truly gripping novel in Sticks and Stones that certainly packs a punch!
*Sticks and Stones, written by Jo Jakeman, is published by Harvill Secker, and imprint of Penguin Random House UK.
**Thanks so much to the team at Harvill Secker for providing me with a proof copy in exchange for an honest review and participation on the blog tour.