Blood Orange is set in a murky world of misogyny and murder. Surprisingly this murky world exists in the legal profession, as inhabited by the novel’s protagonist, Alison, a successful criminal lawyer with a serious drink problem.
Her drinking doesn’t affect her career, which is rising fast. All the other members of her chambers are hard-drinkers and we first meet Alison on a pub after work where she and her colleagues are well-sozzled. Alison is married with a small daughter, but that doesn’t stop her sordid dalliance with Patrick, a deeply-unpleasant legal colleague with whom she has drunken, rough sex on her desk in chambers.
So, Alison is hardly the most sympathetic of heroines, at first. But as time goes on, we begin to like her more and more. Alison can be vulnerable, lost in a masculine world of grey morality, knowing she is behaving badly, but unable to stop herself. However, she’s a fiercely talented lawyer, which we see as she becomes involved in a murder case that becomes more complex the deeper she digs.
As Alison starts to receive threatening texts from someone who knows what she’s up to with Patrick, soon the stage is set for an explosion, not just in Alison’s home life, but in her career, too.
As Alison’s marriage falls apart her career blossoms. She’s offered her first murder trial – a domestic killing. Madeleine is a wealthy and stylish woman who is accused of stabbing her sadistic husband at their Clapham house. Madeleine insists she did it but her behaviour is odd and inconsistent. Alison feels her client is not telling her the whole truth and she is determined to ‘get her off’.
But then Alison starts receiving anonymous texts – threats to her relationship with Patrick.
Madeleine’s story is consistent with the sense of appalling misogyny Harriet Tyce develops as a theme throughout this book. Both Madeleine and Alison are far from perfect, but their behaviour is at least partly down to the way they are treated by men. Blood Orange’s final pages provide a shocking twist when the reader fully comprehends the ghastly ‘gaslighting’ Alison has endured.
Fans of The Apple Tree Yard, and The Girl On The Train, will love this take of a flawed woman escaping intolerable pressures in her home life.
Harriet Tyce is an ex-lawyer herself. The social life of criminal barristers doesn’t sound particularly attractive, and according to Tyce there is a drink-fuelled culture that she knows well. This is a novel which deals with the dark side of human sexuality and Tyce herself notes: ‘It’s best read by people who are both open-minded and can cope with flawed female characters who don’t expect their heroines to be two-dimensional, chocolate-box angels.’
She has certainly achieved that.