Fresh Blood

Name: Jo Jakeman

Title of Book: Sticks and Stones

' sticks or stones could have wrested this book from my grasp. '

Imogen’s husband is a bad man. His ex-wife and his new mistress might have different perspectives but Imogen thinks she knows the truth. And now he’s given her an ultimatum: get out of the family home in the next fortnight or I’ll fight you for custody of our son.

In a moment of madness, Imogen does something unthinkable. Something that puts her in control. But how far will she go to protect her son and punish her husband? And what will happen when his ex and his girlfriend get tangled up in her plans?

The story starts at the funeral of Philip Rochester: ex-husband to Ruby, husband to Imogen, and partner of Naomi. There is no mystery that Philip died, just how he died. And after reading about him and how he treated those around him, I was hoping for a slow painful death!

Philip is a thoroughly nasty character. He is an abusive, narcissistic bully unable to take responsibility for any of his own actions. He is also keeping some secrets, but in true Philip style, he will use these to his own advantage.

The story starts with each of the women in their own corners, each with a different view of Philip and a different relationship with him. In true abuser form, he has manipulated and isolated each of them so they distrust and dislike each other. Jakeman delicately deals with the topic of domestic abuse and how it changes the person who is being abused and takes away their confidence and self-worth. Jakeman also does a great job with the characters, building them layer upon layer, faults and all, as the story unfolds. Whilst part of the story may push the realms of probability, the characters had elements of reality.

I really enjoyed this book and the back and forth of power between Philip and Imogen. The not knowing of just how much Philip had managed to manipulate and convince people around him of his truth is what drove me on with this book. Some may feel the ending slightly anti-climatic, but for me it is more fitting with reality, Jakeman showing that abuse is not a cause for dramatic effect. I can tell you that while reading it, no sticks or stones could have wrested this book from my grasp. A highly polished debut.

Reviewed by: H.A.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What made you base your debut on such a delicate subject? Were you worried that if you wrote about it in the wrong way you could have been seen as trivialising an issue that impacts thousands of women every day?
I didn’t set out to write a story about domestic abuse, it just evolved that way. And yes, I was concerned that I wouldn’t do the issue the justice it deserves.

My starting point was a funeral of a man where people were pleased he was dead. I wrote that chapter before I knew what he had done. At that point the man in the coffin didn’t even have a name. I considered what someone would have to do to me to make me glad they were dead. I started piecing together what kind of a man he’d have to be, and Phillip Rochester started to take shape.

I began writing Sticks and Stones in February 2016, just two months after ‘controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family environment’ was recognised as an offence, so I was more aware of the impact of domestic abuse at that time.

I spoke to people who had suffered domestic abuse and took advice from the police. I also looked at online resources such as Women’s Aid. They have a questionnaire to help people spot whether they’re experiencing abuse, but then there’s a section telling you how to erase your browsing history so that your partner doesn’t know you’ve been looking into this. It made me really appreciate that thousands of women, and men too, are living in fear.
2) Philip is a master manipulator and thoroughly nasty piece of work. Was he always a person of your imagination or pieces of people you have met throughout life?
Thankfully Phillip is a figment of my dark imagination! I love classic novels and had just read Jane Eyre when I started writing Sticks and Stones. I was thinking about Rochester locking his wife in the attic and wondering how Jane could love a man like that. I thought about the ‘wronged’ first wife in Jane Eyre, and all of a sudden it started coming together and I knew that the dead man in Sticks and Stones had to have the surname Rochester. There are nods to Jane Eyre throughout the book - the name, the house fire, locking up a spouse (though in this case it was the cellar not the attic.)

Perhaps it was because I was writing about domestic abuse, but I saw news articles about abuse everywhere I looked, and people started telling me their own stories.

It was important to me that Phillip Rochester was a policeman so that the women (and the reader) would feel they had nowhere to go. Every situation the women were in I thought, ‘how can I make this worse?’ So, I made them have no family, nowhere to turn, and made Phillip a person who should have been protecting them.
3) There is humour sprinkled throughout your novel. Do you think this is important in a crime thriller?
I don’t know whether it’s important for all crime thrillers but it’s definitely important to me. When I’m reading something emotionally distressing I like some humour or warmth to lift it. How often do we say, ‘I don’t know whether to laugh or cry’? If you can find some humour in a dark situation you can often feel better.

It felt right that these particular characters, especially secondary characters, such as Rachel, would use humour to deflect some of the pain. I do it all the time!
4) Why do you feel the ‘Domestic Noir’ thriller has become so popular recently and why such domestic issues are perfect for a crime thriller novel?
I think that the most successful Domestic Noir thrillers are based around people we feel we might know, in situations that we could easily find ourselves in. We want to identify with characters because their victories then feel like our victories.

As well as that, we’re a really nosey bunch! The rise of reality programmes such as Love Island or Big Brother feeds people’s desire to snoop. Tabloids make a living out of providing gossip on what is going on in people’s lives. Domestic Noir novels are like watching through a window, but more than that, we can see into people’s minds. It’s highly addictive!
5) What’s next in the pipeline for Jo Jakeman? Was ‘Sticks and Stones’ always going to be a standalone novel or are the characters going to come back for another story?
‘Sticks and Stones’ was always meant to be a standalone novel but the characters are still in my head. I’m working on book 2 at the moment and one of the women from Sticks and Stones makes a cameo appearance. I don’t know whether she’ll still be there come final edit though!

The next book is about a woman who has been released from prison after providing a false alibi for her partner. She starts a new life with a new identity but, as we all know, the past has a nasty habit of popping up when we least expect it.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I do love crime fiction, but this is a tricky question. Some of my favourite books were so enjoyable because I didn’t know how they would end, but how many would stand a second, third or tenth re-read?

Rather than over-think it, I’m going with the first three that come to mind. Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris, Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier, and I’ll throw in some short stories for good measure (is that cheating?), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That should keep me going for a while!