A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon, Review: Sinister twister

A Tidy Ending, Joanna Cannon’s third literary release is a captivating journey into the mind of a uniquely compelling protagonist. Read my full review.

A Tidy Ending Synopsis

A Tidy Ending Review - Joanna Cannon

A NICE, NORMAL HOUSE

Linda has lived around here ever since she fled the dark events of her childhood in Wales. Now she sits in her kitchen, wondering if this is all there is – pushing the Hoover round and cooking fish fingers for tea is a far cry from the glamorous lifestyle she sees in the glossy catalogues coming through the door for the house’s previous occupant.

A NICE, NORMAL HUSBAND

Terry isn’t perfect – he picks his teeth, tracks dirt through the house and spends most of his time in front of the TV. But that seems fairly standard – until he starts keeping odd hours at work, at around the same time young women start to go missing in the neighbourhood.

A NICE, NORMAL LIFE…

If Linda could just track down Rebecca, who lived in the house before them, maybe some of that perfection would rub off on her. But the grass isn’t always greener: you can’t change who you really are, and there’s something nasty lurking behind the net curtains on Cavendish Avenue…

(HarperCollins, May 2022)

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime-Detective, Drama

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Book Review

No matter the genre, I’ve always found Joanna Cannon’s combination of life experience and astute eye a potent mix on the page. I’ve written previously of the ‘beguiling descriptors, poetic nuance and disarming insight’ found within her 2016 debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and her ‘slim but powerful memoir’ Breaking & Mending. And, in new novel A Tidy Ending, she combines complex characterisation and forensic plotting with that same captivating writing style.

Mother’s voice follows me all the way home. It walks with me along cracked pavements, broken apart by other people’s journeys. It accompanies me past plastic swings in an empty parks, and we pause together before a smear of traffic, waiting for the lights to change.

A Tidy Ending’s lead character Linda’s first-person narrative, initially exudes a vibe similar to Nita Prose’ The Maid and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, in that her world-view is small and heavily shaped by past traumatic events.

Mother says I take far too much notice of the world, that I hold on to things when everyone else has let them go, but it’s just the way God made me and you never know when that kind of information will come in useful.

Linda’s social awkwardness evokes reader empathy and curiosity.

A Tidy Ending Book Quote - "I was used to conversations disappearing whenever I went near them."
A Tidy Ending Book Quote – Joanna Cannon

But, as we delve deeper and deeper into Linda’s psyche and the time gaps between Cannon’s alternating ‘Now’ and reflective narratives diminish, an intense concern and foreboding grows.

They’re interesting, back gardens, because they tell you who a person really is. Not like the front of a house. The front is brushed tidy, with all the personality trimmed back, and it’s always covered in a coat of what people would like you to see. The back garden tells you the real story. Last week pegged out along a washing line…

This is a mystery for those who enjoy the thrill of solving puzzles, rather than the thrill of the chase. Shot through with her endearing, understated literary sensibility, Joanna Cannon’s A Tidy Ending is jam-packed with thought-provoking moral ambiguity and sinister twists aplenty.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 ; Overall 4.25

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More A Tidy Ending reviews

‘Cannon’s shrewd characterisation, sparky observations and subtly menacing plot makes this a darkly funny and delightfully sinister read.’ – Mail on Sunday

‘A genuinely funny, and moving, novel about a serial killer… a curtain-twitching, darkly funny tale with a gloriously sinister twist’ – The Guardian

‘Joanna Cannon creates a world that is so real, so parochial and stifling… Then adds in a killer. Glorious.’ – Jane Fallon, Getting Rid of Matthew

‘A compellingly crafted, darkly funny and compulsive read, full of twists’ – Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

About the Author, Joanna Cannon

Joanna Cannon’s first two novels, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (2016) and Three Things About Elsie (2017), were both Sunday Times bestsellers and Richard and Judy picks. She has also published two non-fiction titles – Three Things I’d Tell My Younger Self (2018) and Breaking & Mending (2019). She worked as a hospital doctor before specialising in psychiatry, and lives in the Peak District with her family and her dog. Check out her website and connect with her on Twitter.

* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.