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Our Kind of Cruelty


Our Kind of Cruelty

OUR KIND OF CRUELTY is an enigma from first page to last. Author Araminta Hall takes the “unreliable narrator” plot and raises it a notch or two. Her unreliable narrator is thoroughly unlikable, and has found the soulmate he wants and truly deserves. Or not.

Mike Hayes is an extremely successful banker who is going places and doing things. When we meet him, he tells us about something called the Crave, which he and his girlfriend Verity --- referred to throughout the novel as “V” --- have devised. It’s a game for three: Mike, V and an unsuspecting patsy. The Crave involves Mike and V entering a bar separately and waiting for someone to approach the very attractive V, at which point Mike intervenes as her boyfriend and puts the unsuspecting gent on the spot. There’s never (well, almost never) any harm in it, but it has its potential and there is always a victim, if we want to overuse that word for just a moment.

"Araminta Hall’s first book published in the US is quite well done, full of real-world twists and turns that take the reader up and around emotional cul-de-sacs."

It is important to understand what the Crave is from the outset, given that Mike, in the book’s present, feels as if V is playing an elaborate form of the game. It seems that V broke up with Mike several months ago, and is now engaged and about to be married to another man, a millionaire named Angus. The breakup ostensibly occurred because of Mike’s moment of weakness with a woman when he was working in New York, which he confessed to V when he returned to their native London. Hilarity did not ensue, and when the dust settled and the smoke cleared, V was ensconced with someone else who sweeps her off her feet. However, Mike is sure that V is playing a more elaborate version of the Crave, with Angus as the fifth wheel. Mike has everything in place, including a new home decorated and laid out to V’s taste, dinners prepared just the way she likes them, and so on.

Mike is set back on his heels a bit when Angus and V actually do get married, but he quickly sees that V is playing the Crave out to the hilt. Mike is very persuasive, which makes OUR KIND OF CRUELTY all the more frightening. He repeats his position often enough and forcefully enough that he’s almost convincing. Almost. Then there is a game changer, and it makes one wonder who is playing who here. The question has to be asked: Is Mike totally delusional, or is V just a bad little actress? You will wonder right up until the last chilling sentence, and perhaps beyond. Maybe Mike and V deserve each other. Or could it be that one or the other is the victim?

Araminta Hall’s first book published in the US is quite well done, full of real-world twists and turns that take the reader up and around emotional cul-de-sacs. We all know people like Mike and V. The Crave also exists, not by that name but it is most definitely out there. One can’t help but wonder if an episode of it served as inspiration for the novel. Book groups could do far, far worse than select OUR KIND OF CRUELTY as a topic for discussion. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that happens.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 25, 2018

Our Kind of Cruelty
by Araminta Hall