Review: THE BETRAYAL by Y.A. Erskine

If the phrase hadn’t been commandeered by an all together different book I would open this review by talking about its myriad shades of grey. Because in depicting a young policewoman’s decision to bring charges of rape against one of her fellow officers THE BETRAYAL’s greatest success is in showing that such an incident cannot be seen in black and white terms.

Using a similar structure to her first novel, 2011’s THE BROTHERHOOD, Erskine tells her story (and in large part it really is her story) from different perspectives. The book opens with a chapter entitled The Complainant in which a young policewoman, Lucy Howard, is raped by a so-called friend who deliberately spiked her drink so he could have sex with her while she was unconscious. The last chapter of the book is told from the perspective of Lucy’s rapist which, in its cavalier mundaneness, is much more chilling than all the italicised ‘thoughts of serial killers‘ the crime genre is so fond of. The intervening chapters show us the story from many other points of view including Lucy’s bosses, a journalist and the case’s prosecutors. Many of the players in the story actively oppose Lucy and side with her rapist, thinking nothing of spreading malicious lies or engaging in intimidating behaviour towards her. Others in the story are ambivalent about Lucy’s decision to press charges against a fellow officer even if they believe she was raped by him. Only one person, the Detective Inspector who oversees the case, really supports Lucy throughout her ordeal.

In some respects THE BETRAYAL could be considered lightweight for its genre. There’s not a single dead body in its 420 pages, no blood or gore and only a single crime in focus. But despite that, or perhaps because of it, the book is one of the most compelling I have read. Ever. Unlike more traditional crime fiction there’s no obvious path of good triumphing over evil or justice inevitably prevailing here. Because we see the story through so many eyes we don’t have an early sense of how it will play out and, by the end, we’re not really sure what form justice might take if it were to appear anyway. Could a guilty verdict make up for the abuse, bullying and vilification that Lucy receives from almost everyone in her world?

Having worked for a few months as a civilian in my local police department in the early 90’s, I’m not sure Erskine went far enough in describing the disrespect and simmering menace towards women that thrived in the environment, though I can understand those readers who struggled with this aspect of the book. It paints a very uncomfortable picture, all the more so if one accepts its realism (which doesn’t mean that all police officers are horrid or brutal misogynists, merely that those who are can get away with behaviour that would be unacceptable elsewhere)  The chapter told from the viewpoint of The Toecutter (a slang term referring to the internal affairs policewoman assigned to the case) is perhaps the most poignant . Because although Sonya Wheeler is a consummate professional in carrying out her duties she is personally torn by having to be involved at all. The passage in which she articulates her anger at how Lucy’s decision to press charges will negatively impact on all the female police officers who have struggled for the moderate level of acceptance they have attained is sobering in its authenticity.

THE BETRAYAL is not perfect. While Lucy Howard’s situation has a credible feel the character of Lucy feels a bit ‘off’ at times. On one hand she’s supposedly the best of the participants on a Detectives’ course (which one assumes requires a level of maturity and intelligence) but she’s also incredibly naive and immature and these two sides to her character don’t quite gel for me. And the book does paint an almost universally bleak picture of society in general and the police force (at least in Tasmania) specifically which must put some readers off.

But these imperfections do not take away from the book’s many strengths. In showing the dark, painful side of choosing to report a date rape and press charges the book opens up a subject that demands greater scrutiny. By including so many of the truly horrid things that can happen to a rape victim after they have been raped the book might be holding up society to a magnifying glass rather than the more traditional mirror but I have little doubt that each of the things depicted as happening to Lucy has happened to a rape victim somewhere, even if not all to the same person. And if there are readers who could be left untouched by that thought then we are, collectively, in serious trouble. This is not a book I would recommend if you’re looking for a light escape from the pressures of the real world. But when you are in the mood for something that offers genuine insight into the complexities of the modern world I would heartily recommend THE BETRAYAL.

I reviewed Y.A. Erskine’s first novel, THE BROTHERHOOD, last year.

I’m counting this towards my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for this year and it could not be a more perfect book for the challenge.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Random House [2012]
ISBN: 9781742750187
Length: 432 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

5 thoughts on “Review: THE BETRAYAL by Y.A. Erskine

  1. I’m glad you finally had the chance to read it Bernadette, it’s a stunning novel and you articulated its strengths and weaknesses beautifully.


  2. What a great review, Bernadette! One thing Erskine does so very well is explore those – dare I say it – grey areas. I could go on and on here but I won’t. You’ve already done a much better job with this than I ever could.


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