She and I, which combines a psychological thriller with a police procedural, is an impressive debut novel from Hannah King.
King lives and works in County Down, Northern Ireland, where she sets her novel, creating a fictional, small seaside town, Vetobridge - a quiet town of "a single main street... the streets are cobbled... while the average age of the residents seems to be about sixty-five".
Now in their late teens, Keeley Mackley and Jude Jameson are "very, very close", having been friends since they were four. They live opposite each other in the aptly named suburb of Wits End. However, the Jamesons live on the expensive side of the street while the Mackleys live in "budget housing" built later. Despite Mrs Jameson's disapproval of the friendship, Keeley and Jude become inseparable, sharing clothes, secrets and even family holidays.
However, there's a dark side to their relationship which comes to a head on New Year's Eve, 2019 when, during a drug and alcohol-fuelled party, Keeley's boyfriend Peter Denny is murdered.
Denny is a celebrity to the young of Vetobridge, not only for his YouTube, videos but also because he's a drug dealer. When the police begin their investigation by running checks on everyone at the party they discover that "if there are one hundred crimes committed in Vetobridge every year . . . this group is responsible for about seventy of them".
The police also learn that in July, 2018, Joshua Mackley, Keeley's brother, assaulted Denny, breaking ribs and badly damaging his face. There was no charge as the victim said it was all a misunderstanding.
King uses multiple voices to tell her story, dating each chapter to separate the consequences of the murder from the developing friendship of the girls over time, as well as what really happened in 2018. It's up to the reader to decide who is an unreliable narrator and which of the two girls is the more dependent on the other. Does Jude really have the bright academic future her parents expect and if so, why is is Keeley so protective of her friend?
She and I has considerable promise. The tension as the novel begins is palpable and the dynamics of the girls' obsessive relationship create as many questions as answers.
However, following the pattern of so much crime fiction, King's Detective Inspector Chris Rice, who leads the investigating team, is unnecessarily flawed and knows he's at the end of his career.
Troubled by a family tragedy, which has led to the break up of his marriage and excessive drinking, credibility is stretched when he solves the crime, despite his colleagues struggling to determine the truth from the lies.
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