Although I am becoming increasingly frustrated that the lovely county of Essex (and no I am not being sarcastic when I say that – why do people always assume I am?) is persistently portrayed by the media as the home for fake tan and thuggish violence, I have to confess I really enjoyed Kimberley Chambers’s new novel The Schemer. It is set in Essex (well, Dagenham, and since I live in Billericay I feel I can snobbishly regard that as East London these days), and follows the disastrous domestic lives of the Crouch family.
Two sisters take centre stage in this tale of sibling jealousy and vicious revenge that reaches levels of almost Shakespearean hysteria in its final act. Stephanie Crouch and her manipulative liar of a sister Angela have always had a rocky relationship, and when their love lives become entangled, their sisterly love for each other starts to disintegrate.
Thankfully, Chambers avoids lazy cliché, and turns the plot around into a furiously compelling mystery that surrounds a betrayal of trust Stephanie commits when she is a young teenager. The novel is split into three sections, and jumps forwards ten years after the end of each phase. Chambers effectively channels the energy throughout the pages so that, as the reader watches the years go by, they are steadily reminded that the trials of the past will come back to haunt the Crouch family.
This isn’t literary gold or Man Booker material, but most people aren’t looking for something Rushdiesque to take away with them on holiday. If you want a good, gripping, easy-to-read novel that doesn’t involve you buying into the current public appetite for bondage porn, this may well be the book for you.
The Schemer (2012) is published in paperback by Harper and is available now in all good bookshops.