Saturday, 19 March 2016

Book Review: WHEN SHE WAS BAD by Tammy Cohen

When She Was Bad

When She Was Bad
Author: Tammy Cohen
Publisher: Random House UK, Black Swan
Read: March 2016
Expected publication: 21 April 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):



Amira, Sarah, Paula, Ewan and Charlie have worked together for years - they know how each one likes their coffee, whose love life is a mess, whose children keep them up at night. But their comfortable routine life is suddenly shattered when an aggressive new boss walks in ....

Now, there's something chilling in the air.

Who secretly hates everyone?

Who is tortured by their past?

Who is capable of murder?

My thoughts:

Ann Carter is a renowned child psychologist who is still haunted by a horrific case of child abuse at the start of her career. When she sees a current news report about a brutal murder, those memories come back to haunt her.

In a parallel storyline, employees of a recruitment agency office are reeling in shock when their boss is sacked and a new person employed to improve profits and streamline their work. From the very first moment she steps into the manager role, Rachel manages to upset and bully her employees into submission. Feeling that their jobs are on the line, the former tight-knit team of employees are pitched against one another, each fighting for their position and for job security. As the environment in the office becomes more and more toxic, it brings out the worst in people – until they can no longer trust one another. Sooner or later it will drive one of them over the edge ....

Cohen certainly knows to build tension – whilst the book starts quite light, the atmosphere soon grows claustrophobic and tense, with the inevitable explosion just around the next page. With its group of different characters all confined to a tight toxic environment and all pitted against one another in order to survive, it reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians”, where there is no escape and you can trust no one.

Cohen certainly knows how to portrait her characters. Whilst I didn’t find any of them particularly likeable,  I felt my empathy building as each had a genuine reason for staying in a work environment which was slowly but inevitable destroying them. Everyone who has ever worked in a team where one bully makes everyone’s life a misery will cringe as the story slowly unfolds. But nothing is as black-and-white as it seems, and Cohen has a few surprises in store just as I thought I had worked it all out.

This is certainly a dark and somewhat sinister read, featuring the worst of humanity, especially in the tale of Ann Carter's case of horrific child abuse. Some scenes are graphic in its horror, and the knowledge that these incidents have been reported in real life. As the stories are linked, it brings up the issue of the effects early childhood trauma and neglect have on an individual for the rest of their lives – and what triggers can push them over the edge.

When She Was Bad is a well-constructed and claustrophobic psychological thriller which is not for the faint hearted.  It will keep you spellbound, even if it is often in horror, pity and disgust as some of the scenes unfold. It is the first book I have read by Tammy Cohen, but it won’t be the last.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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