The Carrier opens with a terrific scene in a German airport where frequent flier Gaby Struthers is appalled by the fuss a fellow passenger is making over a delay. Despite Gaby’s dressing down, the anxious traveler, Lauren, latches onto Gaby and the two spend part of an uncomfortable night together in a terrible hotel as they wait for a replacement flight.
Lauren confesses she’s involved with a trial and is afraid that she’s sending an innocent man to jail. And author Sophie Hannah, whose love of coincidence is almost Victorian, then has Gaby discover that man is Tim Breary, the estranged love of Gaby’s life. From that moment, Gaby’s desire is for nothing more than to save Tim.
The plot then telescopes to look at the lives of Gaby, Tim, and Lauren. Tim had a bizarre living arrangement with a couple, Kerry and Dan, while taking care of his invalid wife Francine. It’s Francine who has been killed and it’s Tim who has confessed to killing her. It becomes clear, though, that Francine was an awful, unpleasant person, and that Tim was wildly unhappy in his marriage. I couldn’t quite get a handle on Francine’s apparent awfulness—though it’s fleshed out to some degree by the narrative device of a series of letters from Kerry and Dan found stuffed under Francine’s mattress.
At the beginning of the novel—the first hundred pages or so—I was totally riveted by Hannah’s story. As she began to peel the layers of characters back, however, I thought she was at times too thorough and at others not quite thorough enough. While both Francine and Tim are central, I felt I didn’t quite get a feeling for either their motives or their actions. Francine is almost a prop in the story line, used to reflect the other characters’ personalities.
Each of the players in the drama know each other well, and the only thing everyone agrees on in The Carrier is that everyone is lying. I was dying to know what had actually happened, and raced through the last third of the story to find out. Hannah is a fine, evocative writer, wonderful with character and setting, but to me the motives of the characters didn’t always ring true. That said, this is a worthwhile read, as Hannah has interesting things to say and an original way of saying them.