This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘When her disastrous Australian love affair ends, Lou O’Dowd heads to Edinburgh for a fresh start, moving in with her cousin, and preparing for the only job she can find: working at a halfway house for very high-risk offenders.
‘Two killers, a celebrity paedophile and a paranoid coke dealer – all out on parole and all sharing their outwardly elegant Edinburgh townhouse with rookie night-worker Lou…
‘And instead of finding some meaning and purpose to her life, she finds herself trapped in a terrifying game of cat and mouse where she stands to lose everything – including her life.’
In Halfway House, by Helen FitzGerald, we follow 23-year-old Australian Lou O’Dowd as she starts a new life in Edinburgh after her “kept woman” relationship with a rich married man comes to an end.
Lou is quick to make an impression in her adopted city, finding a new boyfriend, Tim, and starting her new night job — supervising a halfway house full of notorious parolees — within days of her arrival.
But is Tim all he seems, and how will Lou fare with her new charges and colleagues?
I enjoyed Halfway House, finding it to be a fast-paced read with dark humour in glorious abundance.
While the men who live in the titular terrace have been in prison for some of the worst offences, they’re generally written for laughs as sad, desperate losers with high levels of denial and low levels of self-awareness.
Along with Lou’s new colleagues — variously well-meaning but ineffectual; overworked and highly-stressed; or corrupt and on a power trip — their characters ring true with what I’ve heard about the criminal justice system. I could well imagine offenders and staff alike rubbing shoulders with Stuart MacBride and Val McDermid’s fictional Scottish police officers.
Even when Lou is in a seriously dicey situation, FitzGerald highlights the offenders’ bungling ways and lack of careful thought without downplaying the violence they’re capable of or the danger faced by the night worker.
Lou herself is complex and interesting. At first, I loved to hate her, not unlike some of the characters in FitzGerald’s previous book, Keep Her Sweet. She initially comes across as impetuous, two-faced, and compulsively self-sabotaging.
However, I softened towards Lou as I learned more about her. I came to see her as extensively damaged by her childhood experiences of frequently moving because of her dad’s army job, meaning she learned to make friends quickly but didn’t get to form deep, lasting bonds with anyone.
Despite this damage, Lou is fundamentally optimistic — she sees every new start, including this one, as an opportunity to finally get things right — and gives Tim the benefit of the doubt for longer than some might. She also surprises herself with her resourcefulness.
Besides, she’s only 23, and her younger cousin Becks, who she’s lodging with (alongside a ragtag bunch of Festival performers Becks invites to crash) displays a level of sanctimony towards her that betrays her own lack of maturity.
Over the course of the story, we see Lou herself become more aware of her strengths and abilities and how her past has shaped her, and that her parents are humans who love and are always there for her. By the time she was in peril, I was cheering her on.
Halfway House is an entertaining, engrossing thriller that’s full of colourful characters.