He Said/she Said BY ERIN KELLY
BY ERIN KELLY HODDER & STOUGHTON OUT 20 APRIL
“The elegant plotting is near invisible amid the rich interior lives on the page”
As a metaphor in a crime novel, an eclipse has a certain resonance. In Erin Kelly’s sixth book, her characters are kept in the dark about crucial details – much like the reader. Yet the facts would seem to be incontrovertible: a woman has been assaulted during the total solar eclipse of 1999 at a grungy festival in Cornwall. A young couple, Laura and Kit, witness the rape and aftermath – a twist of fate that will affect their lives for the next 15 years. He Said/she Said confronts you with that stark and disturbing scene, followed by the trial several months later. The harrowing nature of the case is compounded by the insensitivity of the slick court reporter and the aggressive defence lawyer. Kelly’s writing on this difficult subject is powerful, while the courtroom scenes capture the cold-sweat anxiety of the vital eyewitness. She excels at legal minutiae too.
But there’s a key ingredient that makes He Said/she Said such a stunning psychological crime novel: doubt. Not the professional questioning of a defence lawyer or the sexist stereotyping, but Laura’s slowburning uncertainty about the apparent victim, Beth. The first‑person narrative switches between Laura and Kit, going back and forth over the years. It’s clear early on that Beth has somehow become a threat and the couple are fearful enough to change their names, move house and avoid social media – the stalker’s friend.
The false rape allegation is a bold and possibly controversial concept, though Kelly is too good a writer to fall into crass and predictable B-movie territory. The elegant plotting and subtle withholding of vital information are almost invisible amid the rich interior lives on the page. Kit, a scientist by training, is more comfortable with facts; Laura is more imaginative, which has fuelled her anxiety about the evidence she gave in court. Both of them are increasingly paranoid about the woman they tried to help.
Crucially, Kelly makes her characters entirely believable by furnishing them with recognisable lives – jobs, IVF and status anxiety in north London – rather than just a bundle of motives to drive the plot. When the truth finally emerges from the darkness, the impact on the couple you’ve lived with over 15 years and 400 pages is almost unbearable.
Kelly’s best novels tend to introduce a group of idealistic yet flawed characters whose fates are somehow bound together, resulting in terrible consequences and good oldfashioned suspense. She’s done it again with this gripping and important book.