"Blood Orange" by Harriet Tyce; Grand Central ($26, 352 pages).

"Blood Orange" by Harriet Tyce; Grand Central ($26, 352 pages). (Grand Central Publishing/TNS)

"Blood Orange" by Harriet Tyce; Grand Central ($26, 352 pages)


Professionally, London barrister Alison Wood's career is on the rise. She's proven to be a thoughtful barrister, able to handle a heavy workload, put in long hours and get results. And, finally, after 15 years on the job, she has been given her first murder trial. And it's a high-profile one, too - her client Madeline Smith has been charged with stabbing her husband, Edwin, while he slept.

Personally, Alison is a mess. She spends too much time at bars, drinking with her colleagues. She's in a clandestine relationship that includes rough sex with fellow barrister Patrick Saunders, who is her instructing solicitor in the murder case and has a reputation of being a philanderer. No wonder her marriage to therapist Carl Bailey is crumbling, and she often neglects their 6-year-old daughter, Matilda.

While at first glance it's easy to dismiss Alison, British author Harriet Tyce does an outstanding job in "Blood Orange" of illustrating how a character's seemingly unforgivable faults may hide a deeper, more complex personality. While Tyce's debut hinges on an unreliable narrator, "Blood Orange" also is the story of a marriage, of the point where love can turn to hate and how a person must regain her own sense of self. Obsession is a dangerous thing.

Focusing on her case, Alison tries to convince her client not to plead guilty. Slowly, Alison begins to see many parallels to her marriage and that of Madeline's. In public, both husbands on the surface seemed to be saints to put up with such difficult wives. But in private, their personas were quite different. Alison's manipulation by her husband and by her lover must reach a crescendo before she can claim herself.

Tyce's affinity for an unconventional psychological thriller works well in "Blood Orange" as does the insightful look at the British legal system.

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