'Oh, it's not a shock... it's not a shock in the slightest... because I'm the one who killed her.'
Welcome to Durham, home to the prestigious Durham University. Within this university are a range of colleges but the one that homes the country's future elite is Joyce College. On the outside it looks innocent as ever, with students working hard to ensure they graduate and are offered positions in their fields. However, a culture of secrets, sex, jealousy and unhealthy obsession is embedded within the college. It's become a way of life for the close-knit students. The young women of the college want to show their strength and stand in unity with feminism by showing they can do the same as men, but it is the devastating effect of the Internet that breeds a new beast of bullying--a beast that leads to death.
Detective Inspector Erica Martin has recently been promoted and her first case surrounds the death of Emily Brabents, a 'fresher' at Durham University. She is found by the weir over the Regatta weekend, and it is seen as an unusual death. Suicide is seen as a possibility, but DI Martin feels differently. It is after a conversation with the principal of the college when a young man with the name Simon Rush steps in. He's the student president of Joyce and is believed to have been the last person to see her. It is in this early scene where, in a huge twist, he confesses.
You'd think that would be the end of it, wouldn't you? We're 18 pages into this book and we already have a confession to who murdered Emily. However, when it is deemed that Simon is not in good mental health, it begins a spiral into looking into different suspects and possibilities. As DI Martin digs deeper, more secrets are revealed. Then there's the question of who is Daniel Sheppard and why does his name keep popping up?
As you read through this story, you will notice there are shifts in perspective. It is a sort of omniscience between characters, but the most interesting shift is the one between the third person narration for DI Martin and co. and the first person perspective of Daniel Sheppard. Another point of interest is the change in format for the text when shifting from third person to first. Initially, it might not seem like much of a clue, but this slight change provides an insight that will make everything fall into place at the end... but I'm not giving away any more than that!
What becomes apparent is the sick and twisted online culture that starts to become unveiled during this investigation. It is found that because of the relentless pressure of being popular, Emily gets into an unconventional relationship with Nick, the classic jock of the story. Why is it unconventional? Well, as it usually plays out in the university setting in most stories, Nick turns out to be a jerk. However, Emily wants to keep up her reputation, so she does what she thinks is cool and will get her the most attention... and that is let Nick take photos of her in very sexual ways.
This is fine at first because it's consensual and nothing bad happens... until those photos get on the Internet. Does that stop Emily? No. Soon, there are videos sent in emails and more photos uploaded onto social media. There are web pages and many anonymous users writing horrible comments, suggesting the only good thing for her to do is kill herself. This begins to cast doubt over DI Martin as she tried to piece the puzzle together. Were they certain it was murder? And the confession so early on... what did it all mean?
More digging provides DI Martin with unexpected facts about Emily's not-so perfect life. The unknown abuse within her family, the unusual relationship between her and her best friend, and the secret groups partaking in intimate acts. Soon, there is another death and the evidence doesn't make sense. What is going on, and who is Daniel Sheppard?
A story about the struggles of being accepted and the dangers of the Internet, Bitter Fruits by Alice Clark-Platts explores the vulnerability that young women experience when fighting for equality in society. It also delves into corruption and abuse, and how easy it is for those to be hidden in an elite community.
What I thought
To keep it short and simple, this is a great story! The whole time I was reading the book, I kept on questioning particular characters and what they're motives could be. However, I always felt like the story was trying to force me to think towards a certain person being the murderer. I've watched enough English crime TV shows to know that the most obvious person is never the one who did the murder, so I wasn't fooled by this. Nonetheless, the ending had me absolutely shocked.
When you get 18 pages in, you're suddenly given a confession. It seems very out of the blue and too easy, but I think with how the rest of the story went that this made the book really interesting. It threw a major spanner in the works, particularly since it unveils some of the more horrific incidences that occur at the college.
Then there's the change between first-person and third-person as well as format as we switch between characters. However, it's interesting to note that it's only one character who gets a different format and perspective, and that's Daniel Sheppard. As I mentioned earlier, there is a really good reason for this. At first it confused me and I didn't like that only one character had such a dramatic change. However, once it is revealed why, I was absolutely gob-smacked. Once I made the connection, everything fell into place--not just for me but for DI Martin as well!
It's not your average crime fiction novel either. It's a story that, like a work of art, blends psychological thriller with mystery. Then there's the pictures on the Internet and cyber bullying that occurs, which provides a look at why people act that way and what drives someone to betray another's trust.
I absolutely loved this story. It has really urged me to read more crime fiction in the future, so I would love to hear any recommendations for some good ones you have read! I would not recommend this to a young audience as a lot of the themes and scenes are quite mature. However, I would definitely recommend anyone who is at university/college age or older to give it a go because I think it provides a great insight into the dangers of the modern world and is quite a thought-provoking text. However, if you're not into crime fiction stories or you don't want to be freaked out by the possibilities of the Internet, then maybe skip reading this one (although I still would recommend it because I think it's great!).
Let me know what you think! Are there are crime fiction stories out there that you have really enjoyed?
Charlotte is a reading and writing lover who has completed a creative writing intensive course at the University of Oxford and is a current university student studying a double degree in journalism and creative writing. If you are curious to learn more, check out the 'About' page.