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When justice demands capturing your husband’s killer and keeping him in a cage in the kitchen

The Captive by Deborah O’Connor

Imagine having a cage in your kitchen… inside is the man who murdered your husband and his punishment demands that he must ‘live and breathe’ the consequences of his crime in the victim’s home.

In a high-concept thriller, which promises to be one of this year’s most startling page-turners, Deborah O’Connor conjures up an extraordinary dystopian future in which restorative justice is taken to what would seem to be its logical – but chilling – conclusion.

The result is just what you would expect from a writer whose work includes the searing psychological thrillers My Husband’s Son and The Dangerous Kind… a super-smart, sophisticated and highly original tale which pack a powerful punch on so many levels.

After a burglary at her own home when she was later invited – but turned down – an offer to meet the people who had broken in, O’Connor began to devise a daring plot for this gripping, thought-provoking and superbly executed exploration of criminality, victimhood and justice.

Six months ago, Hannah Cavey’s husband John, a detective sergeant with the Met in London, was stabbed to death in alleyway in what the police, and now the courts, believe was ‘a mugging gone wrong.’

Bar worker, 28-year-old Jem Dahlin, was pictured on CCTV following John into that alleyway and has recently been found guilty of causing his death even though he consistently denied killing the off-duty policeman.

Under restorative justice laws – ushered in years ago because jails had been deemed too soft, too crowded and too expensive – Jem must spend his twenty-year sentence in a cage the size of a shopping centre parking space in Hannah’s Hampstead home.

The prisoner has a bed, a basin, a table, a chair and a screened-off toilet, and there is a hatch and metal drawer through which to exchange food and other items. Seeing, feeding and talking to Jem will be unavoidable even though having him so close makes Hannah feels like she has been ‘punched in the throat.’

Her Domestic Liaison Officer warns her that ‘criminals aren’t like us. They will lie to you, they will get you into trouble. They don’t care.’ And although Hannah – scared that he might get out and try to hurt her – tells herself that she will block him out, Jem is always there on the edges of her vision.

But from his first day in the cage, Jem swears to her that he did not kill John. And as he drip feeds Hannah his version of events leading up to the murder, she starts to question whether Jem really has been wrongly convicted…

The Captive truly is a captivating and intensely addictive read as we weave between the alternating narratives of Hannah and Jem, a device which adds an extra layer of suspense and complexity to the gradual unravelling of past events.

Jem’s innocence or guilt is never assured, and it is this tension between truth and lies which simmers constantly between the victim and the convicted criminal.

Written with O’Connor’s trademark flawless fluidity and remarkable psychological insight, this is a story brimming with extraordinary ideas, emotional intensity, and more twists and turns than a Hollywood disaster movie.

Entertaining, fast-paced and clever, The Captive will hold you prisoner right through to the shocking denouement.

(The Captive by Deborah O’Connor, Zaffre, hardback, £14.99)

Pam Norfolk
Pam Norfolk has been writing book reviews for over ten years, including for the Wordsworth Trust. She has also worked as a reporter and sub-editor on regional and national newspapers.

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