Fans of Jodi Picoult – and there are millions – feel mighty comfortable when the latest 500 - or in this case 600-pager -finds its way on to their bedside table. Her fans know they will get what it says on the tin – often a suspicious death, a court case, a moral dilemma that grips the characters in its icy hand, and a variety of compelling viewpoints delving deep into motive and impulse. The coup de grace, is, often, of course, the did-I see-that twist in the tale.
House Rules pretty much ticks all these boxes. 18-year old Jacob has Asperger's syndrome. Addicted to a TV show which bears a striking resemblance to CSI, he takes to devising fake crime scenes. He is well-versed in things like blood spatter patterns and rigor mortis. When his tutor's corpse is found in a wood - an attractive college girl who has been particularly helpful to Jacob - he becomes a prime suspect.
The reader is treated to a number of versions in the aftermath of this disturbing event, including a key account from Jacob's mother, Emma Hunt. Emma more than anyone else knows the reality of Asperger’s and how it affects her son. Occasionally violent, he commits inappropriate actions as a matter of course. He can’t look people in the eye, and flaps his hands when he is in a panic or stressed - such behaviour traits make the lad a natural suspect.
Emma’s sense of desolation and regret - Dad left the family years previously - is perhaps the most moving aspect of Picoult’s gripping tale, and Jacob himself will also tug at your heart-strings, in his naturally evasive account. There are also versions from his resentful 15-year-old brother, Theo and from the detective on the case.
The basic question is a fascinating one: can you get justice in the legal system if you are not equipped to stand trial, and yet are expected to? When you close the book your mind is still humming from being made to look from so many angles, buffeted around by the push and pull of sympathy.
Jodi Picoult has been for years now the best-selling female novelist in Britain. The 44-year-old author unfailingly tops the New York Times best-seller list and must be doing something very similar in this country.
When a journalist met her in 2007, worldwide sales even then, were in excess of 12 million. Four years ago certainly, she was working from 7.30am until 3.30pm in a small office in the attic of her house in New Hampshire.
She was about to go on a publicity tour for her fourteenth novel and she spends three months a year promoting her books. The day the journalist called, early proofs of her fifteenth book were in boxes, research notes for her sixteenth were on her desk. House Rules is her seventeenth.
So Picoult is a one-woman industry who does extensive, painstaking research before she sets herself to the actual story. Another novel, Harvesting the Heart is out now in hardback, and there is an extract at the end of this edition of House Rules. Heck, there is even a reader's guide to House Rules at the back. There’s little danger of Picoult withdrawal syndrome, moral dilemmas come in all permutations and are endless - expect the next book, Sing You Home, soon enough.
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