Date rape isn't a subject that I've come across a lot in my crime fiction reading, so combine that with an Australian setting, a very dark outlook and a number of quite damaged, imperfect characters who crash towards an unusual ending in the second book by local author Y.A. (Yvette) Erskine and it seemed like it could be a winning package.
As with the first book, THE BROTHERHOOD, the story is again told with a shifting viewpoint per chapter, unfortunately this time the outcome is a rather drawn out, disconnected feel. I'm not convinced it served the main victim, Police Constable Lucy Howard, particularly well. Whilst her viewpoint is scattered throughout the narrative, there's an arc of character development that suffers from a lack of continuity. As Howard goes from timid, apologetic victim of what is undoubtedly a dreadful experience - through to a self-assured, determined strong young woman who can accept an outcome that is questionable there were gaps in her progression that left me unable to shake a feeling of convenience at best, a suspicion of reader emotional manipulation at worst. Somehow, somewhere I suddenly realised that whilst I was feeling sympathy for what Howard experienced, she was increasingly distant and off-putting.
To be fair though, there are things that really do work well in the book. Even with all the negativity there are some fascinating portrayals - interestingly mostly of the men doing wrong; be it the perpetrator of the rape and his casual disregard for his victim; Howard's only vocal supporter who has his own questionable sexual behaviour supposedly, in support of his wife; through to the Police Commissioner with his preoccupation with his own corrupt behaviour. It is in the very nastiest of the characters that there is a distinct sense of realism and identification. Skin-crawlingly realistic to be frank, but whilst I'm normally a huge fan of the dark, there were points in the narrative where even these characters became overly cynical, tedious, often bordering on annoying. Something it took me quite a while to recognise was the two different possible motivations for betrayal - be it unintentional or active treachery. As those distinct differences became clearer in my mind, then the voices of some of the more annoying characters started to make some sense, albeit they remained very unpleasant people.
For this reader, reading crime fiction isn't always just about entertainment, nor is it about retribution, vengeance, or justice always getting it right. It's often about exposing the darker side of human behaviour, it's often about the way that things don't always end happily for everybody. In that THE BETRAYAL casts a powerful, bright, no-holds barred light on a crime that's under-discussed, under-exposed in crime fiction, the book is worthwhile. In the way that it casts light on the very worst of human behaviour it is interesting. It's just not a book that you're going to put down and walk away from without a sneaking suspicion that there's an awful lot wrong with parts of this world.