Halfway House, Helen FitzGerald

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Helen FitzGerald is one of those authors who really knows how to write engaging and very offputting central characters that you care about, despite their obvious failings, flaws, and downright stupidity from time to time. As is the case in HALFWAY HOUSE where central character Lou O'Dowd is .. well ... quite something.

Infuriating, annoying and quite beguiling, she's part ingénue, part ruthless user, and oddly extremely sympathetic and relatable. Maybe it's the wide eyed devil may care"edness" of her lifestyle, maybe it's the sneaking suspicion that she's well aware of the fact that many of her choices are questionable and actually doesn't give a toss what anyone thinks, that make her, well forgiveable is one word for it I suppose.

I mean how else are you going to get on board with a girl who starts a relationship with an older, married man, and stays with the weirdness for the money. And how are you going to explain the utterly clear-eyed manner in which she turns from that life in Melbourne, to a job as a night worker in a halfway house for offenders in Edinburgh Scotland. Plumping to land in with a cousin that she's been less than kind to in the past, and almost seems to go out of her way to be horrible to, despite her hospitality and obvious desire to be friends. Oh and there's the sexual relationship that she leaps straight into - jetlagged and barely arrived.

Aside from the Halfway House residents, and we'll get to that in a second, Lou's cousin runs an open house for fellow thespians and Edinburgh Festival performers. Which means that the household is shapeshifting constantly, it's way too crowded, and you never quite know what or how is going to be there whenever Lou returns. Which she deals with. Just the same as she seems more than happy to launch herself into night shifts at the halfway house, despite the somewhat haphazard introduction, what feels like a very broad sweep introduction program, and a series of residents there that are ... well creepy, menacing and in one particular case, quite a stunning surprise for Lou.

Needless to say, there is a lot going on, and readers may find themselves wondering about Lou's sanity, everybody around her's sanity, and probably their own for sticking with this. But FitzGerald is one of those authors that seem to be able to pull off the utterly and inexplicably crazy, whilst making it seem, maybe not normal, but at least believable. I mean who hasn't flown halfway around the world, to work in an offenders house, on your own, at night, not really knowing what to do, where you are, who to call on if you're in trouble, and, how you're going to cope if it all goes tits up. Which, to be fair, is about the only predictable thing about this novel. It's going to go tits up, the question is really just how, who's behind the chaos and what Lou's going to do about it (I will admit to an uncomfortable sense of admiration at some the things she does when confronted with a really tricky situation in the house).

The other thing FitzGerald does incredibly well is write dark, sly humour in a way that gives you permission to laugh a lot - even when it's inappropriate - or is it really? I mean, if you're confronted with the stupid, impossible, creepy and threatening circumstances that Lou puts herself in, and you are doing all this sanity questioning, well sometimes you just have to laugh. 


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Meet the roommates from hell

On her first shift at a halfway house for violent offenders in Edinburgh – the only job she could get – rebounding Australian expat Lou is taken hostage. For nine long hours, the only people who can help her are the residents. But who can Lou trust? The mum-and-dad-killer, the elderly legless rockstar paedophile, the stammering suicide chat room guy, or the Armani-suited conman?

Slick, darkly funny and nerve-janglingly tense, Halfway House is a breathtaking thriller and an unapologetic reminder: never corner a desperate woman.

Review Halfway House, Helen FitzGerald
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, March 7, 2024
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