Helen King was abused as a child, taken into care, where her only friend was young Ash. Having run away after Ash left the care home, fourteen year old Helen was pushed into prostitution and drug addiction.
Now, having seen a former tormenter, Helen is out for revenge. The old wounds are opening, fueled by her terrible past and her need for drugs. Helen moves to Edinburgh to search for those who betrayed her in childhood and hoping to find Ash, her one friend. When Helen’s betrayers start to die, police must try to connect her to the crimes.
Theme of the Book
In Betrayal the theme of child abuse and the damage it does to the victim is presented and explored. Here, instead of becoming an abuser herself, the victim is cut off from feelings of love and empathy and simply lives for revenge.
What I Liked About the Story
The basis for the Betrayal is the terrifying experiences of Helen as a young child and the effects they have upon her as a teenager and an adult. Helen is hardly a likeable character, but even the hardened police officers come to feel sympathy for her.
Helen is a victim as well as a murderer. The abuse she suffered in childhood and her later years as a prostitute and a drug addict have left her unable to feel empathy for anyone. Her motivation is revenge and she does not care who she hurts as long as she can make those who betrayed her suffer. The gritty descriptions of Helen’s surroundings only underline the desperation of her life. The author pulls no punches in letting the reader know that this is no “cozy” mystery. There is nothing cozy or heartwarming about the novel at all. It is disturbing both for the tragic story of Helen and for the graphic violence she visits upon her victims.
The second strong female character in Betrayal is DI Belinda Brennan. Brennan is another single-minded character though on the opposite side of the law. She is fiercely independent, rude, insubordinate, and determined to show that a woman can be as tough as a man. Like Helen, Brennan has little time for others. Her marriage is falling apart and her subordinates fear her. Brennan is even more unlikeable than Helen and the reader will feel even less sympathy for her. The author hints that Brennan’s gender has held her back but gives no examples of misogyny she has faced so it is difficult to identify with her.
Of the secondary characters, the best is Donny, aka Toofy. Here is an awkward, unattractive young man desperate to be loved and cared for. It is this desperation that pulls him into Helen’s orbit.
While there is no real mystery in the book, the action and the plot generally move quickly and will hold the reader’s interest.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
There was so much potential in Betrayal. The basis of the story leads the reader to hope for a fully psychologically driven narrative. Unfortunately, it seems that the author has only scratched the surface.
Aside from Helen and Donny, most of the characters are one-dimensional. I had a hard time keeping the police officers straight in my mind and finally decided that it didn’t really matter as none of them had much personality. Even Andrew Renton, the Ash Helen had depended on, was a cardboard character. We know he was in care at one point but we learn almost nothing about his background or his earlier relationship to Helen. The American character, DI Ellington, was also a puzzle to me. She does finally come to some kind of friendship with Brennan, but seems to have no other role in the story. Does she appear in the next book?
Parts of Betrayal felt like fillers to me. For example, in an early chapter, the author writes for pages about Helen’s new room. We are treated to a detailed description that lends nothing to the plot. Towards the end of the book, there is a chapter called “Reprimands” in which, the reader is told, Brennan reprimands Renton. What does she tell him? What is the result? We learn that Renton takes a less active part in the investigation, but the author has missed an opportunity here to give the reader a deeper understanding of the characters.
Finally, there are a few editing problems that should have been caught.
Betrayal is not the first book to make the obvious criminal a somewhat sympathetic character. I wish it had been done better. The theme of child abuse and its effects on the victim was well done. In some ways this is a disturbing novel but I do wish the author had painted a deeper picture of the characters.