Books

Halfway House by Helen FitzGerald review – a masterclass in blackly comic horror

A young woman is taken hostage on her first shift at an Edinburgh halfway house for violent offenders. The story escalates from there

The central protagonist of Helen FitzGerald’s Halfway House is Lou O’Dowd, a chaotic and self-deprecating Australian who moves to Edinburgh on a whim to work in a halfway house for high-risk offenders. FitzGerald herself is Australian by birth but has lived in Scotland for decades, and has worked here as a probation officer, and has no doubt used some of that experience to lend authenticity to her tale. 

Though I would hope for her sake that she’s not the same as Lou, who is a hilarious walking disaster of a young woman, making bad decisions and being self-destructive, but doing it with panache and a sarcastic aside into the bargain. 

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The book takes its time to establish her as a flaky and funny character, introducing her and her world vividly and memorably, before throwing her into the company of a bunch of dangerous sex offenders, murderers and more. 

The story escalates on one fateful night in the halfway house, which is a masterclass in blackly comic horror and crime writing, as events conspire to make Lou a hostage. 

But she’s a resourceful character, and FitzGerald expertly folds the interweaving storylines together as the book comes to a climax, leaving the reader breathless and grinning from ear to ear.  

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

Halfway House by Helen FitzGerald is out on 18 January (Orenda, £9.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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