The Other Half by Charlotte Vassell

Debut author, Charlotte Vassell, set herself a hard task for her first novel, to make her readers engage with a set of young toffs in London, mostly not working much or very hard, splashing the cash, narcissistic and not caring about the hoi polloi, but she succeeds on several levels.

Firstly, the horror of the Bullingdon Club type antics of Rupert Achilles Courtney Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham), who hires the top floor of the Kentish Town Macdonald’s for his thirtieth birthday party – it’s black tie and BYOC – Bring Your Own Coke! It’s no mistake I’m sure that Vassell called her antihero Rupert – echoing Jilly Cooper’s top cad Rupert Campbell-Black of Riders.

Secondly, she does introduce one sympathetic character – Nell Waddington – whom Rupert wishes to dump his present girlfriend Clemmie for and marry. Nell, who works hard at a small publisher for a living had met Rupert at Oxford, but despite being attracted to him has decided to reject him totally. She was planning to tell him this at the party, with the lovelorn Alex, who still hopes that Nell will notice him, in tow. The four of them had recently holidayed together in Greece, and something happened between them – we’ll find out in due course.

Thirdly, comes the real star of this novel – but more about him later. First we need a murder. Everyone at the party is beginning to wonder where Clemmie is, but no-one is really that bothered, including Rupert, although he’s increasingly annoyed that he won’t get to dump her at the party. Later she will be found murdered, wearing a ball gown, half under a bush on Hampstead Heath. It is a bit of quandary why Rupert was with Clemmie. She’s not blue-blooded and went to Oxford Brookes not the ancient university and she’s too clingy. However, she is undoubtedly much cleverer than she looks, making a name for herself by being a successful influencer, when not ‘working’ at an art gallery.

The case is assigned to DI Caius Beauchamp (pronounced as it appears) and he is the real star of this novel. Apart from having been dumped by his partner Héloise, a Frenchwoman who has decamped back to Paris, he is refreshingly free of all the other grumpy detective tropes. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his quirks though! He’s part-Jamaican, into self-improvement and fitness, becoming well-read, also a gourmet who tries to embrace healthy eating, a man who enjoys being well-dressed – he’s definitely not your usual DI. He also has a really funny relationship with his DS, Matt. They have a unique double act, and call their boss the ‘grand pooh-bahh’. Caius Beauchamp is the best new DI I’ve met in a while – so I hope Vassell continues to create more cases for him and his team.

As Caius begins to investigate the luxurious lives of this group of ‘friends’, he finds as one door opens another shuts. They look after their own. Rupert is clearly a sociopath, but did he have the opportunity to murder Clemmie on the night of his party? If not him, who? It gets complicated, but Caius and his team will get there in the end.

What was so enjoyable about this novel was its sense of fun and satire, again unusual for a crime story. It is very witty and funny – take this description of a barman at an axe-throwing bar:

The barman was at least six foot three, heavily tattooed, and his arms bulged – not in an ‘I do weights so I look like a monument in a V-neck T-shirt’ way, although he really did look amazing, but in an ‘I might burn down a monastery, kidnap you and take you to Iceland’ way.

The Other Half is very much of now, Vassell’s attention to contemporary detail is second-to-none, from Caius’ quinoa salad to the axe-throwing. Admittedly, she’s easier on her main man Caius than the upper classes she’s skewering, and he’s all the more loveable for it. We also hope he might make things up with Héloise, she’s very much an enigma in this novel. There’s a lovely informality to Vassell’s writing that fair breezes along – if comic-genius Nina Stibbe were to write a crime novel, it would have a similar witty feel (but set in the Midlands). Comedy in writing a crime novel is very hard to pull off, never mind the plotting; Richard Osman can do it, and on this example, so can Charlotte Vassell. More please!

Don’t just take my word for it – read Harriet’s review and interview with Charlotte at Shiny New Books here.

Source: Review copy – Thank you. Faber hardback 368 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

This book also fits with #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy

12 thoughts on “The Other Half by Charlotte Vassell

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      She was spot on about non-jobs for posh girls in galleries and all that. Apart from Nell and Alex, they were all ghastly.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      And I particularly loved the relationship between Caius and Matt, the latter always ribbing the former over his good taste.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Friends have tried it, but I’m not so sure, I’m bad at throwing things. But I’m a good shot for an occasional on a rifle or archery range!

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