In The Spotlight: Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry

>In The Spotlight: Kel Robertson's Smoke and MirrorsHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Domestic noir has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, and it’s not hard to see why. Most relationships, especially intimate relationships, are complex, and the people involved in them could have any number of secrets. Family relationships are very effective contexts for a crime novel; and most readers can identify at some level with the characters. Let’s take a look at an example of domestic noir today and turn the spotlight on Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry.

The real action in the story begins as Alistair Robertson and his partner Joanna Lindsay take a very long flight from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. As if the length weren’t hard enough, they have with them their nine-week-old son Noah. As anyone who’s ever taken a long trip with an infant can tell you, it’s difficult even under the best of circumstances. And these are not the best of circumstances. For one thing, Noah is still more or less a newborn, so his parents are sleep-deprived. For another, he is not an ‘easy’ baby. Many new parents would have been unwilling to make such a long journey with such a young baby, but Alistair has an important purpose in mind. His ex-wife Alexandra lives in Victoria with their teenage daughter Chloe. As he tells Joanna, Alistair doesn’t trust Alexandra, and wants custody of Chloe. He feels his chances are much better if he, Joanna and Noah are in the area.

The trip is horrible and physically and emotionally draining; but the flight lands safely in Melbourne, and Alistair and Joanna start the long drive from the airport to their destination. That’s when their nightmare really begins. Along the way, they face every loving parent’s greatest fear: the loss of baby Noah. Alistair gives the alarm, and a massive search is soon underway. Many, many people are questioned, and the Australian media make much of what’s happened.

At first, there’s a great deal of sympathy for the couple. There are international fund-raising efforts, ‘Find Baby Noah’ campaigns, and a lot more. Even Chloe, who has every reason to resent her father, creates a Facebook page to raise money to find her half-brother.

Little by little, though, questions begin to arise. Even the police, who’ve thus far been very supportive of Alistair and Joanna, start wondering if they might know more than they’re saying. Sadly, it’s not unheard-of for parents to be responsible for the loss of their children. Did that happen here? Joanna in particular comes under intense scrutiny. As the case goes on, matters get worse and worse. In the end, though, we do find out the truth about Noah.

This is a domestic noir sort of novel, so a great deal of the focus is on Alistair and Joanna and their relationship. As the story evolves, we see that bond start to fray as the pressure on them increases. We also learn how they met and what the dynamic between them has been. As the layers of their life are peeled away, we also learn about Alistair’s relationship with Alexandra and with Chloe. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the ways in which these people interact play an important role in it.

Another element in this novel is way the media and the public behave in situations such as this. When Noah is first reported missing, journalists and cameras are everywhere, and much is made of the trauma Noah’s parents are suffering. And with today’s global communication, it’s not long before there’s a worldwide reaction to the event. Comments on news stories and blogs are staunchly supportive of the couple, too. But when the questions start to surface, things change quickly. Blog posts, Tweets, and other commentary become critical, then vilifying. The media’s reaction changes too, with a lot of criticism directed at, especially, Joanna.  Everyone, including many of the other passengers on that long flight, weighs in. Then, when a new big story comes along, the media is just as quick to lost interest in Alistair and Joanna and move on to something else. Being under the proverbial media microscope wreaks havoc on the family, and we see how that impacts them as well.

The stories of Joanna, Alistair, Alexandra and Chloe are told in flashback form, and from different perspectives. In this way, we learn what each is like and how their relationships evolved. Readers who prefer linear stories told from one point of view will notice this. Readers will also notice that some points of view are told in present tense, others in past tense. That said though, it is clear (at least it was to me) whose point of view is being shared at any given time, and when the different events in the story happen. Through this slow reveal of the characters, we also see what led to the events in the story.

Along with everything else, this novel is about the loss of a child. Fitzgerald shows in several ways how devastating that really is for all involved. It’s a very, very sad undertone, and readers who dislike stories in which children are gone will want to know this. It’s also worth noting that, this being a noir story, everything isn’t all right again at the end. For a few of the characters, we do get the sense that life will gone and they will survive. But this is not a light, easy story.

The story raises a number of difficult questions, too. For instance, there’s the reactions of the passengers on the flight from Scotland to Melbourne. To say the least, most are not sympathetic. And it’s certainly understandable, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been on a long flight with a constantly-crying infant. On the other hand, as any parent can tell you, one can’t just magically make an infant travel quietly. There’s also the question of what, exactly, the media’s response should be in situations such this. What’s the balance between reporting the news and invading privacy?

The Cry tells the story of a couple whose lives are shattered (or weren’t they already?) when they face the loss of their baby. It takes close looks at all the relationships involved, and raises some important questions. But what’s your view? Have you read The Cry? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight


Monday 13 July/Tuesday 14 July – The Intruder – Håkan Östlundh

Monday 20 July/Tuesday 21 July – Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier

Monday 27 July/Tuesday 28 July – The Blackhouse – Peter May


Filed under Helen Fitzgerald, The Cry

20 responses to “In The Spotlight: Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry

  1. Col

    Great spotlight as usual – no time to add another new author though.

  2. I read and reviewed this book quite a while ago and found it unsettling and clever.

  3. Margot, such an intriguing book. You have me wondering what really happened now. One thing you mention stood out to me, just how fast public opinion can change in cases like this. With social media today, the tide can change in a blink of the eye and by someone who really doesn’t have all the facts. THE CRY is another book I’ll have to add to my TBR stack.

    • That’s just it, Mason. With the speed of today’s communication, public opinion can be very fickle and very strong. And you’re absolutely right about the way not having all the facts can affect everything. People who aren’t fully informed on things weigh in, one Tweet leads to another, and before you know, there’s a storm. It’s interesting how Fitgerald weaves that ‘court of public opinion’ into this story. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. I haven’t read Cry, but I want to now. I love changing POVs and deep, conflicted characters. This sounds like a story for me. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. Excellent review, Margot. I don’t feel comfortable reading novels about family secrets and involving children but then I tell myself this is just fiction and that I must distinguish between the real and the unreal. The thing is, in recent days, I read more than one news report of children vanishing from their schools, though I’m not sure if they’re true. But child trafficking is very real and it’s disturbing that people can actually do this to innocent kids.

    • It is indeed very real, Prashant, and so upsetting to think about, especially when you’re a loving parent, as you are. Children are too often innocent pawns in a very vicious game. It’s enough to make anyone uneasy, even if it is fiction. One can only hope that talking about will at least move us closer to finding a real solution to this terrible problem.

  6. Great review, making me want to read this. The portrayal of the speed of modern-life-reaction sounds excellent.

    • Thank, Moira. You’re quite right about the way people react in the novel. Facebook pages/posts, Tweets, and other responses to the search for Noah go up with lightning speed. Just as quickly, everything changes when questions begin to be asked. And I really do think that’s the way it works in real life, too.

  7. Kathy D.

    I don’t know if I”ll read this although I read “The Donor,” by the same author, which is so-so, very predictable. This sounds better.
    However, I just watched an 8-hour series called “The Missing,” from British TV. It is about what happened to a 5-year-old boy who goes missing one night and it takes the eight episodes to discover the resolution.
    Even for me who doesn’t have children, it was harrowing and painful.
    The story deals with the effects on the parents of this terrible tragedy, and then on many others directly or indirectly involved.
    The production is good with James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor, but, parents beware: it is hard to watch.

    • That’s good to know, Kathy. I’ve not seen it, but it sounds absorbing, if difficult to watch. I hope that, if you read The Cry, you’ll be glad that you did.

  8. Got this on Kindle; sounds worth making time for, definitely! It’ll do for when I next want to read a domestic noir (I take notions for them sometimes!)

    • Oh, I hope you’ll enjoy it when you get to it, Crimeworm. It is, in my opinion, a nicely-drawn set of character studies, as well as a solid plot. Not an easy read, especially given the subject matter, but I hope you’ll like it.

  9. This sounds like the type of story I like with flashbacks and differing points of view. But the subject matter sounds difficult. I will put this on a list to consider. The setting sounds interesting too.

  10. I am sorry Margot but I didn’t like this at all. There was no element of surprise in the end and the characters were totally unsympathetic. And very frankly I am tired of narratives by hysterical, drunken women as also of this sisters-who-have-been-deceived-by-a-cad kind of bonding between wives and mistresses.

    • There’s no need for apologies, Neeru. I have never read, or heard of, a book that was for everyone. If the book didn’t suit your taste or interests, it didn’t.

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