Tessa Hopwood is a fifty-something mum, a journalist recently ‘let go’ by a top magazine, a serious drink-driving conviction on her CV to accompany a failed marriage and one of two daughters estranged – they haven’t spoken in months. When the younger daughter, Emma, is attacked on her way home, Tessa’s life is turned on its head. Em is shocked and shaken, physically bruised but – most importantly – saved from any sexual assault by the timely intervention of a passer by. When the police organise an ID parade to identify the culprit, neither Em nor witness Frances can identify the ‘right’ man and Tessa, convinced that she knows who Em’s assailant is, decides to do things her own way.
Poor Tessa is a mess, actually. Struggling to cope with the physical and psychological effects of the menopause and her self-esteem battered by redundancy, she is prey to all manner of fancies, midnight imaginings and “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Much of Stop At Nothing is pure anxiety porn, as Tessa makes bad judgment after bad judgment, wrong call after wrong call. Readers will see the picture – at least part of it – way, way before she does, and in places the narrative reminded me of the frequent moments in Hammer horror films where the heroine (usually scantily clad) insists on going down into the cellar clutching only a flickering candle. We want to grab Tessa by the arm and say. “Do. Not. Do. This!”
Personally, I warmed to Tessa – and her unfailing knack of getting things wrong – much more when her relationship with her elderly parents moved to centre stage. The tragedy of dementia is a natural cruelty that makes even the most devout religious person want to howl with rage at the heavens, and Tammy Cohen (right) handles this poignant mix of frustration and fury with a deft touch.
This is a novel of great subtlety, less a crime novel, more a detailed portrait of obsession and deception. Tessa Hopwood’s north London life is one that will be uncomfortably familiar to many readers, with its mixture of social angst, financial pressures and the constant urge to “keep up, don’t dawdle – just keep up..”