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The Couple at the Table


The Couple at the Table

With the release of THE COUPLE AT THE TABLE, Sophie Hannah proves why she is one of the finest plotters in the psychological thriller/mystery game. She also shows why she gained the confidence of the extremely selective estate of Dame Agatha Christie to be the only writer permitted to continue her Inspector Hercule Poirot series, which she has accomplished through four brilliant books.

In Hannah’s latest confounding puzzler of a novel, newlyweds Jane Brinkwood and William Gleave are on their honeymoon at Tevendon, an exclusive couples-only resort. They are horrified to run into Lucy Dean and her fiancé, Pete Shabani, in what they see as a firm encroachment on their time together. Lucy was once married to William, who cheated on her while she was pregnant with their midwife, who happened to be Jane.

"THE COUPLE AT THE TABLE is deviously good fun, and so clever and well-plotted that the reader will be giggling with joy once the solution is revealed. This is psychological mystery writing at its finest..."

So when Jane is murdered in brutal and mysterious fashion, immediate allegations will be hurled at Lucy, who had long harbored ill feelings towards her ex and his one-time mistress. However, it just so happens that DC Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Sergeant Charlie Zailer, are also vacationing in one of the handful of bungalows that make up the resort, and they are first on the scene when Jane’s body is found.

Because there is such a small number of guests at Tevendon, along with minimal staff, at the time of the murder, it makes for a perplexing mystery to fall into the laps of Waterhouse and Zailer --- one that often times had me recalling Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. This comparison is especially fueled by the fact that Jane is far from likable and gives nearly every guest at Tevendon a reason to want to silence her permanently.

It all starts with ominous notes sent to Jane while at the resort. The first one merely says “Beware,” while the second specifically warns her of “the couple at the table nearest to yours.” This is particularly confusing because each night Jane and William sit at a raised table since they are the honeymooners, while each of the other tables are equidistant from theirs and are rotated each dinner service among the other pairs of guests.

A very public argument takes place one night at dinner when Lucy and Pete are mistakenly served an expensive bottle of champagne that was intended for Jane and William. Jane throws a huge fit that embarrasses all who are present. William whispers something to Jane that appears to horrify her and sends her off. Just a short time later, Waterhouse and Zailer head to the couple’s bungalow to make sure all is well, only to find Jane stabbed to death --- with William sitting not far from the body in a chair with his back to her and the murder weapon on the floor directly behind him.

William’s catatonic state, in which he seems to have been unaware of what happened to his wife, is troubling. However, the blood spatter expert contends that William could not have been the killer as there were only traces of blood on the back of his shirt. Waterhouse and Zailer must address the others who were present when the murder occurred, but they all claim that no one left the dining room the entire time that Jane and William were gone. It seems like an impossible situation, especially if you rule out an unknown third party who could have snuck into the resort to commit the crime.

Even though it takes over six months to put it all together, Waterhouse reassembles everyone at the scene of the alibi where he produces a denouement that would have made Poirot proud.

THE COUPLE AT THE TABLE is deviously good fun, and so clever and well-plotted that the reader will be giggling with joy once the solution is revealed. This is psychological mystery writing at its finest, and Sophie Hannah maintains her status as one of the best writers working in the genre today.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 23, 2022

The Couple at the Table
by Sophie Hannah