Book Review: His & Hers by Alice Feeney
By Janet WebbAugust 4, 2020
His & Hers features two life-weary protagonists: Londoner Anna Andrews, a suddenly unemployed television newsreader, demoted to covering breaking stories, and Jack Harper, a detective. The overarching theme is captured by Shakespeare’s, “What’s past is prologue,” (The Tempest). Andrews and Harper, from their vantage points of media and police, are investigating the case of a murdered woman who is found in her car in the sleepy English town of Blackdown. Rachel Hopkins was a classmate of Anna’s at St. Hilary’s, the local high school. Jack knows Rachel too. In the following scene, Jack and his associate Priya Patel examine the body:
“You all right, sir?”
Priya is staring at me, and I wonder if I’ve been talking to myself again. Even worse, she appears to be looking at the scratch on my face, where Rachel left her mark. I’ve never understood why women do that during sex, scratching with their fingernails like feral cats. Hers were always the same: long and pink with fake-looking white tips. I didn’t mind marks on my back that nobody could see, but she caught me on the face last night. I stare down at Rachel’s fingers again now, the nails roughly cut to the quick, and the two words painted on them: TWO FACED. Then I look back at Priya. Seeing my colleague staring at the faint pink scar on my cheek makes me want to run, but I turn away instead.
“I’m fine,” I mumble.
It seems Jack knew Rachel on a Biblical level although it was only “sex without strings.” We learn that Anna and Jack are divorced: when their little girl Charlotte died unexpectedly, their marriage disintegrated. Years later, their lives are bleak—Jack goes through the motions at work while Anna is a day drinker. Anna’s mother, who still lives in Blackdown, is not the capable, vibrant woman she once was: “Dementia stole time from my mother, and stole my mother from me.”
The connections between Anna, Jack, and Rachel are made subtly. Readers swing back and forth between Anna and Jack’s alternating chapters. They both act suspiciously. While they ponder the latest occurrences, the coincidences come fast and furious. Agatha Christie said it best: “Any coincidence is worth noticing. You can throw it away later if it is only a coincidence.”
Is it a coincidence that a second murder victim was also part of Anna’s high school clique? Helen Wang was the cleverest of the group and served as the editor of the school paper: “she went from being head girl as a teenager to being headmistress before she was thirty.” Someone has cut her throat. Another murder scene for Jack and Priya.
Even from the doorway, I can see the foreign object inside her mouth. Just like with Rachel, there is a red-and-white friendship bracelet tied around the victim’s mouth.
Similar to the mutilation of Rachel’s fingers, someone has left a message on Helen’s body: “… the word LIAR has been written across her chest, just above her bra. The letters appear to have been made using a staple gun.” Jack is definitely out of his depth, but he realizes that there’s no one available who could navigate the deaths any better.
After Jack tells her that Rachel and Helen were both found with friendship bracelets wrapped around their tongues, Anna runs off, distraught. She knows those bracelets; memories from high school flood her consciousness. Jack finds her in a wooded retreat not far from the school, where girls used to sneak off during class. Anna is shocked that he found her.
“How did you know where I was?” she asks.
“I remember you telling me about this place.”
“How else would I know?” I say.
She looks so confused. Her face wears what looks like a secondhand expression inherited from her mother. I almost feel bad not confessing that it was Rachel who told me that they used to come here together, not Anna.
Anna’s high school friendship circle is at the crux of the mounting murders in her hometown. It’s almost too much, necessitating poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” Rachel, the ringleader of the St. Hilary’s clique is dead, headmistress Helen is dead, and no one, alive or dead, is quite how they seem. Are Jack and Anna being framed and if so, by whom and why? His & Hers is madly complicated, there are so many red/dead herrings, but readers who enjoy mysteries that are influenced by past events will enjoy every twist and turn.