Bitter Fruits, by Alice Clark-Platts

fictionfan's review against another edition

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Sex, lies and online bullying...

When the body of first-year student Emily Brabents is found floating in the weir, it falls to recently promoted Detective Inspector Erica Martin to investigate. Having just transferred to the Durham force, Martin soon discovers what a huge part the prestigious University plays in this city, and the pressure is on to get a quick result before there's too much bad publicity. But as Martin begins her investigation, she discovers that underneath the ancient traditions and academic reputation, Joyce College is awash with sex, secrets and online trolling. And pretty young Emily, desperate to be popular, has been at the centre of much of it, with sexually explicit photographs and videos of her appearing on Facebook, attracting the attention of every bully and troll in the College. But was she the victim of male manipulation that she at first sight would appear to be, or was she deliberately flaunting herself in some kind of skewed vision of feminism? Did the murder have something to do with the trolling or was there another motive – perhaps even something to do with her life outside University? When another student promptly confesses to the crime it looks as if everything will be tied up quickly, but DI Martin's not convinced...

This is an excellent debut novel. It's primarily a police procedural, but one that focuses as much on the psychology of the culture that led to the crime as on who committed it. It's hard hitting, and the storyline means that it is pretty sexually graphic, even salacious, at times – but only within the demands of the plot, so I didn't feel it was gratuitous. Bit too much swearing for my taste, but what's new there, eh? (One wonders if crime writers have to replace the f-key on their computers every ten thousand words or so...)

The story is told mainly from DI Martin's viewpoint, though in the third person (past tense – yay!). She's (and I can't tell you how excited I am to say this) NOT a maverick! Instead, she's an intelligent, dedicated officer who remains sober throughout, doesn't break any laws (well, only one tiny one and she gets her knuckles duly rapped for it), doesn't sleep with anyone except her partner, and doesn't beat anyone up! I think I'm in love! Joking aside, she's reasonably well developed in this one but there's plenty of room for her character to grow in later books. We don't see much of her outside work, but it's clear her relationship is in difficulty, and at work she meets with the usual sexism, both of which did cause me to yawn just a little. But these aspects are merely touched on – the book concentrates almost entirely on the crime and the investigation, which I found deeply refreshing.

We also get to see the story from a different angle – through the journal of another student, Daniel Shepherd. Clark-Platts' writing here is very skilful – Daniel's voice is very different to the main narrative. As an enthusiastic student of classic literature, he writes in a slightly overblown way – not enough to be annoying, but it gives him a very distinctive style of his own. He's a bit of a loner, with a chip on his shoulder about the rich kids in the top colleges, to whom everything seems to come so easily. When the trolling of Emily begins, he at first provides a handy shoulder for her to cry on, but he soon feels he'd be willing to do almost anything to protect her.

The investigation element drags a bit in the middle with Martin putting off interviews with some of the major characters till later – clearly so there than can be a dramatic climax, but it didn't feel wholly credible. But the first section is very strong as we get to know all the characters and begin to find out about what's been happening in the college, and the ending is really great. Even when it becomes clear who the killer is, there's real tension in working out the why of it all and seeing if Martin will be able to get some kind of justice for Emily. The whole psychology of it is the most interesting part and felt to me very real - not just the motivations of both Emily and the killer, but how an institution can develop a kind of sick culture that drags everyone into it, willing or not.

One of the most promising debuts I've read in crime fiction for a long time – I'm very much looking forward to meeting DI Martin again.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph.

neenor's review against another edition

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I'm at odds with how to review this book. When I first started it, I hated it - it was a chance buy from a charity book shop, and from the first page it was clear that the author's writing mimicked my own at age 12 (mimicked in the sense of She picked up her brush and brushed her long, flowing, wavy brown hair. She put down the brush and turned to the door. She stood up - this isn't a quote but it's what it felt like. Not everything has to be described!) So immediately I wasn't impressed. But I'm a sucker for thrillers, even poorly written ones, and I found myself sucked into the story - I wanted to know what happened next, continuously. It became difficult to put down. However, the ending was a bit lame - I hadn't clocked it, but it just seemed a bit poor to me. So overall, I kind of feel indifferent about this book - it wasn't completely awful, but it definitely wasn't good.

thebooktrail88's review against another edition

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For the locations in the book Booktrail of Bitter Fruits

Life for a first year university student is a serious of challenges and new experiences. Parties, drink, going wild…..but ending up dead? You may not want to read this if you’re starting university anytime soon.

Durham, North East England – the home of a prestigious university high up overlooking the banks of the river Wear, home of the annual Durham Regatta and a beautiful place to live.

But in Bitter Fruits, the river Wear is a crime scene and the corridors of Durham University are awash with secrets, lies, cover ups and obsession.

From the moment the novel opens at the discovery of the body, Prebends Bridge flanked by bushy trees and a neat riverside walk, becomes a crime scene. The River Wear has only just been a scene of celebration for the students involved in the famous Durham Regatta weekend. The safety of the students is now a concern as it the reputation of the university itself.

DI Erica Martin has just moved to Durham so this is a new and difficult territory for her. Establishing an investigation within the confines of an enclosed academic environment is not as easy task. Fighting through the web of intrigue to get to the truth is one thing but the dubious confession is the most confusing aspect of all.

University life and the struggle of wanting and trying to fit in are gloriously and chillingly recreated. Some girls including Emily want to be like the men and prove their ‘worth’. The struggle to fit it, the ways to get noticed, the scrutiny of other students via social media. This is a harsh and bleak landscape..

First year at university should be the start of a young person’s future but sometimes as portrayed here it is a complex and slippery slope into the abyss. Social media in a traditional and academic setting makes for a contrast of values – old and new, decaying and fresh, freedom and a sense of entrapment.

Just let me take a breath here. That was quite a read! I’m just thankful I’m not at university anymore. Now, I do realise that this is fiction, but the picture it paints of university life is not one you’d want to be involved with yourself. The backstabbing, weirdos on campus, not to mention the staff…thank goodness this is a novel. A raw stab of a read.

DI Erica Martin, new to Durham and new to the world of academia is a great character who is adept at rooting out the secrets and lies of the students she meets. You find out what she does at the same time via diary entries of Daniel, one of Emily’s fellow students, and the updates of the investigation as one leads back to another and then back again! As the picture forms, life at the university is revealed as a dark and dangerous place. What does go on in the halls of academia?

University life here is a den of cyber bulling and cyber stalking and as you’re drawn deeper into a psychological minefield, there are a lot of issues highlighted here that might just make you stop and think.

Gritty – for the police and the students – and for the reader!

m3l89's review against another edition

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I enjoyed this but felt there was a big chunk in the middle where not a lot happened. I found the ending confusing and didn't think it was explained very well.

jackyinthebox's review against another edition

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If I had taken a shot every time this author used the word "troll" or "trolling" I would have gotten as shitfaced as the little assholes in this book were always getting. While Erica Martin seems like a pretty flat character who really could have been fleshed out more if she's going to carry a continuing series (which seeing as there is a second book coming out this year I'm assuming she will be) it was an still an interesting story. Unfortunately, all I kept thinking of was how little it seemed like the author knew about young adults.

Also I wasn't really a fan of how this book treated sexuality and the idea of young adults (and girls especially) exploring how they felt about sex and love and everything that comes with it. It almost gets kinda after-school special-y with the constant lecturing from different characters about how girls should respect themselves more and not take off their clothes for boys.

edengatsby's review against another edition

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This was a great read. Sat in a tent, in front of a campfire in the middle of nowhere, I devoured this book in a night. It was perfectly paced, with the right balance of creepiness and confusion. The end took me by surprise despite the many clues hidden throughout the book. I just wasn't quick enough to piece this one together. It's nice to be on a level with the detective - finding out what they know when they know it makes you really feel like you're there alongside it all.

tashtash's review against another edition

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dark mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


norma_cenva's review against another edition

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Crime fiction in not usually something I read. But this book attracted me first of all with it's cover. I am like that, give me a good cover and i will give a book at least a try. To have a female Detective Inspector is interesting, normally from what I notice it is always men. So, that was a nice touch. I do not know if there will be continuations, but if this is a series, it looks like it can be a good read, with developed characters and good in depth writing. It was enjoyable and even somewhat educational too!

menelaos's review against another edition

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A great book by a well-respected author, a new entry to the best crime novels published in the last two years. A plot brilliantly written and a story so promising and so mysterious. A sure read for everyone who is interested in crime fiction blended with some young adult themes, such as sexuality, feminism, and social relationships.