Two Women by Martina Cole
Published: June 2000
Pages: 633 (paperback)
Genre/s: Crime, Thriller
Source: Own library
Danger and violence have always been part of Sue Dalston's East End upbringing. Unloved by her mother, abused by her father, and brutalised throughout her entire marriage, she smashed her husband's skull in a final act of desperation. All that keeps her sane is knowing that she's done it to protect her four children. At last, they are safe from harm. When she is celled up with murderess Matilda Enderby, their fates become inextricably linked. And no one - least of all Sue - could have predicted the consequences..
Two Women had been on my wishlist for several years and when I found a cheap copy on sale a few weeks ago I thought it was high time I actually read the damn thing. Although crime-mysteries aren't usually my thing, I've been reading quite a few of them lately, and this one particularly appealled to me as it sounded more like an insight into the lives of women in prison.
Aaaaand this is the bit where I tell you if you have this book on your TBR/wishlist because you think that's what it is, well, it isn't. The vast majority of two women, and the part I found most riveting was Sue's life before she was convicted of murdering her own husband.
Two Women starts with a prologue which, in hindsight, was probably unnecessary or is perhaps a way to grab the people who are looking for the prison angle when they read the first few pages. The prologue quickly gives way to Sue's childhood, and is where the book becomes far more drama than mystery.
Whilst not exactly likable, I found it very easy to feel an incredible amount of sympathy towards Sue. From childhood she was pretty much destined for a life of violence and unhappiness, and for those reasons I really wanted something better to happen to her, but she does evolve over time and through her circumstances to someone who once again is perhaps not very likable, but understandable. There were times when I felt quite frustrated with her for not trying to change what was happening to her, but I could also see why her circumstances meant that she didn't have the bravery or knowledge to be able to move away from her situation.
Her devotion towards her children and her need for them to have a better life than she has had is admirable, but again circled me back to the question of why she didn't do more to get herself out of such a horrible cycle.
Two Women is violent, ugly and shocking. Sue's whole family perpetuate a life of misery for themselves and each other, and there's very little comraderie between any of them. Their emotions and loyalties swing constantly and in that way the characters are very contradictory - just when I thought I had them figured out, they did something completely different that took me by surprise. Therefore it's a pretty unpredicatable read, and that really had me hooked because I wanted to see what terrible thing happened next or if someone would get bitten in the arse by karma.
The part that I actually found most disappointing about this book was, sadly, the prison aspect. After all, that is what had me interested in this book in the first place, but it felt rushed and not very tense. The mystery element didn't shock me, or even surprise me, and this is not a crime-mystery in the traditional sense.
I did enjoy Two Women overall, and probably would have liked it more if I'd gone in with lesser or different expectations.