In 1985 I read Every Day is Mother’s Day, a first novel by the unknown author Hilary Mantel, and I knew I wanted to read more by her. A year later I read Vacant Possession and I was hooked. Three days ago I picked up The Art of the Imperfect by unknown author Kate Evans, and I felt the same sense of discovery as I had known thirty years earlier.
The book begins with a quote from the late Petruska Clarkson to the effect that the only way a therapist can let down a client is by dying. I met Petruska Clarkson (probably at about the same time as I first read Hilary Mantel) at Metanoia, the therapeutic practice she ran with her partner at that time, Sue Fish. Kate Evans clearly knows a lot about the therapeutic process, but whether there is any connection between her fictional “Dr” Thelmis Greene (baptised Thelma Green) and Petrusca Clarkson is her business – and nor does it matter, because (a) the book stands on its own as an entertainment and (b) reading it will do you at least as much good as being in therapy.
The setting is Scarborough. Dr Thelmis Greene’s murder is investigated by DS Theo Akinde who suffers from being: an outsider (he’s not even a Yorkshireman, let alone a Scarborough native); black in a predominantly white skinned and white thinking town; and gay. He isn’t short of suspects, most of whom demonstrate forms of what Yorkshire folk would call madness ranging from post-natal depression through obsession to simple, out-and-out barminess and one of the pleasures of the book is the way in which characters’ mental fragility is not spelled out from the beginning but emerges over time. The way we see character development through watching what people do is far more accomplished than is usual in a first novel. Akinde is fortunate to have the help of a local woman in threading his way through Scarborough family connections but it takes a coincidence of an unsatisfactory kind (the only weak point in the book) before he is able to identify the killer. That, though, is hardly the point; The Art of the Imperfect is an absorbing and sometimes hilarious romp through a seaside resort that still thrives as many today do not but maintains its individual character. Thirty years ago, I recognised Hilary Mantel as a name to watch. Today I give you Kate Evans as another.
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