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The Carrier: A Zailer and Waterhouse Mystery


The Carrier: A Zailer and Waterhouse Mystery

THE CARRIER, British writer Sophie Hannah’s latest novel, begins with a seemingly random encounter between two women at a German airport who are each dealing with the long delay of their flight back to England. Our narrator, Gaby, is forced to spend the evening with a complete stranger named Lauren, who seems to be extremely agitated by her.

When their delay continues, the airline agrees to put up the impacted passengers in a nearby cheap hotel. It is here while sharing room and bed with Lauren that Gaby decides to press further on a statement Lauren had made earlier during one of her airport fits. Lauren indicated that she was allowing an innocent man to go to jail, which fills Gaby with both curiosity and dread. It turns out that a man with whom she had an illicit affair --- Tim Breary --- has been incarcerated recently for murdering his wife, a crime Gaby is confident he did not commit. 

"Sophie Hannah excels at raising the ordinary psychological thriller to that of fine literature, and the narrative is consistently challenging and never predictable."

As the meeting with Lauren begins to feel more pre-ordained than random, thus begins the tangled psychological web of mystery that is THE CARRIER. When Gaby calls her less-than-patient husband from the German airport to report her delay, he asks her who the carrier is. The first thought that pops into her mind is Tim Breary?  Once the riddle of why Gaby thinks of the accused murderer as being “the carrier” is solved, the truth will emerge. However, it is a long and winding road before we get to that point.

Hot on the case of discovering whether or not Tim actually killed his wife, Francine, is left to the husband-and-wife team of Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse and Detective Sergeant Charlie Zailer. As the lead figures in a series of novels by Hannah, we have found these two coming up against one seemingly unsolvable case after another. It's almost as if they were working the Peculiar Crimes Division made famous by another British crime writer, Christopher Fowler.

Ironically, THE CARRIER is the first full novel in which Waterhouse and Zailer are married --- particularly since the definition of what constitutes marriage is at the heart of this mystery.  Before slipping into a comatose state, Francine was a highly abrasive and abusive sort who turned off everyone around her. Once she falls into a coma brought about by a serious illness, Tim has her put up at Dower House, a boarding house run by close friends Dan and Kerry Jose. It is there where Lauren is tasked with caring for Francine. The question remains: Who was it that put a pillow over Francine's face, and was it murder or compassion that brought on this act?

Waterhouse and Zailer are confounded at every turn to find out the motive or guilty party. All they know for sure is that everyone involved with Dower House is lying. Equally interested in finding out the truth is Gaby, who still bears a torch for Tim, even though he never consummated their relationship and turned her away prior to Francine's death.

Sophie Hannah excels at raising the ordinary psychological thriller to that of fine literature, and the narrative is consistently challenging and never predictable. Following her undertaking of continuing the Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot mysteries with the terrific THE MONOGRAM MURDERS, Hannah is riding high with another outstanding page-turner of a mystery.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 16, 2015

The Carrier: A Zailer and Waterhouse Mystery
by Sophie Hannah