Our Kind of Cruelty

Our Kind of Cruelty

by Araminta Hall

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Overview

“A searing, chilling sliver of perfection . . . May well turn out to be the year’s best thriller.” —Charles Finch, The New York Times Book Review

This is simply one of the nastiest and most disturbing thrillers Ive read in years. I loved it, right down to the utterly chilling final line. —Gillian Flynn

“A perfect nightmare of a novel—as merciless a thriller as I’ve ever read. Astonishingly dark and sensationally accomplished.” —A. J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window

A spellbinding, darkly twisted novel about desire and obsession, and the complicated lines between truth and perception, Our Kind of Cruelty introduces Araminta Hall, a chilling new voice in psychological suspense.

This is a love story. Mike’s love story.

Mike Hayes fought his way out of a brutal childhood and into a quiet, if lonely, life before he met Verity Metcalf. V taught him about love, and in return, Mike has dedicated his life to making her happy. He’s found the perfect home, the perfect job; he’s sculpted himself into the physical ideal V has always wanted. He knows they’ll be blissfully happy together.

It doesn’t matter that she hasn’t been returning his e-mails or phone calls.

It doesn’t matter that she says she’s marrying Angus.

It’s all just part of the secret game they used to play. If Mike watches V closely, he’ll see the signs. If he keeps track of her every move, he’ll know just when to come to her rescue . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374228194
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 05/08/2018
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Araminta Hall is the author of Everything and Nothing. She has an MA in creative writing and authorship from the University of Sussex, and teaches creative writing at New Writing South in Brighton, where she lives with her husband and three children. Our Kind of Cruelty is her first book published in the United States.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The rules of the Crave were simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a predetermined place a good way from where we lived. We traveled there together but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart for it to seem like we weren't together but close enough that I could always keep her in my vision. Then we waited. It never took long, but why would it when V shone as brightly as she did? Some hapless man would approach and offer to buy her a drink or ask her to dance. She would begin a mild flirt. And I would wait, my eyes never leaving her, my body ready to pounce at all times. We have a signal: As soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears around her neck, I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he thought he was doing talking to my girlfriend. And because I am useful-looking in that tall, broad way, and because V likes me to lift weights and start all my days with a run, they would invariably back off with their hands in front of their faces, looking scared and timid. Sometimes we couldn't wait to start kissing, sometimes we went to the loo and fucked in the stalls, V calling out so anyone could hear. Sometimes we made it home. Either way, our kisses tasted of Southern Comfort, V's favorite drink.

It was V who named our game on one of those dark, freezing nights where the rain looks like grease on your windows. V was wearing a black T-shirt that felt like velvet to touch. It skimmed over her round breasts and I knew she wasn't wearing a bra. My body responded to her as it always did. She laughed as I stood up and put her hand against my hot chest. "That's all any of us are ever doing, you know, Mikey. Everyone out there. All craving something."

It is true to say that the Crave always belonged to V.

* * *

Part of me doesn't want to write it all down like this, but my barrister says I must because he needs to get a clear handle on the situation. He says my story feels like something he can't grab hold of. He also thinks it might do me good, so I better understand where we are. I think he's an idiot. But I have nothing else to do all day as I sit in this godforsaken cell with only the company of Fat Terry, a man with a neck bigger than most people's thighs, listening to him masturbating to pictures of celebrities I don't recognize. "Cat still got your tongue? My banter not good enough for you?" he says to me most mornings, as I lie silently on my bunk, the words like unexploded bombs on his tongue. I don't reply, but it never goes further than that because in here, when you've killed someone, you appear to get a grudging respect.

* * *

It is hard to believe that it isn't even a year since I returned from America. It feels more like a lifetime, two lifetimes even. But the fact is I arrived home at the end of May and as I sit here now writing in this tiny, dark cell it is December. December can be warm and full of goodness, but this one is cold and flat, with days that never seem to brighten and a fog that never seems to lift. The papers talk of a smog blanketing London, returned from the dead as if a million Victorian souls were floating over the Thames. But really we all know it is a trillion tiny chemical particles polluting our air and our bodies, mutating and changing the very essence of who we are.

I think America might have been the beginning of the mess. V and I were never meant to be apart and yet we were seduced by the promise of money and speeding up time. I remember her encouraging me to go; how she said it would take me five years in London to earn what I could in two in New York. She was right of course, but I'm not sure now that the money was worth it. It feels like we lost something of ourselves in those years. Like we stretched ourselves so thin we stopped being real.

But our house is real and maybe that is the point? The equation could make me feel dizzy: two years in hell equals a four-bedroom house in Clapham. It sounds like a joke when you put it like that. Sounds like nothing anyone sane would sell their soul for. But the fact remains that it exists. It will wait for us without judgment. It will remain.

* * *

I employed a house hunter when I knew I was coming home, whom I always pictured stalking the streets of West London with a gun in one hand and a few houses slung over her shoulder, blood dripping from their wounds. She sent me endless photos and details as I sat at my desk in New York, which I would scroll through until the images blurred before my eyes. I found I didn't much care what I bought, but I was very specific in my requests because I knew that was what V would want. I was careful with the location and also the orientation. I remembered that the garden had to be southeast-facing and I insisted on the house being double-fronted because V always thought they were much friendlier looking.

There are rooms on either side of the hall, rooms that as child I simply didn't know existed, but that V taught me have peculiar names: a drawing room and library. Although I've yet to fill the bookcases and I have no plans to become an artist. The eat-in kitchen, as estate agents love to refer to any large room containing cooking equipment, runs the entire back length of the house. The previous owners pushed the whole house out into the garden by five feet and encased the addition in glass, with massive bifold doors that you can open and shut as easily as running your hand through water.

Under-floor heated Yorkshire stone runs throughout this room and into the garden, so when the doors are open you can step from inside to out without a change in texture. "Bringing the outside in," Toby the estate agent said, making my hands itch with the desire to punch him. "And really, they've extended the floor space by the whole garden area," he said, meaninglessly pointing to the sunken fire pit and hot tub, the built-in barbecue, the tasteful water feature. He was lucky that I could already imagine V loving all those details, otherwise I would have turned and walked out of the house there and then.

And that would have been a shame, as upstairs is the part I like best. I've had all the back rooms knocked together and then repartitioned so we have what Toby would no doubt call a master suite but is actually a large bedroom, a walk-in wardrobe, and a luxurious bathroom. I chose sumptuous materials for all the fittings: silks and velvets, marbles and flints, the most beggingly tactile of all the elements. I have heavy curtains at the windows and clever lighting, so it's dark and sensuous and bright and light in all the right places. At the front of the house are two smaller bedrooms and in the attic is another bedroom and en suite, leading to a roof terrace at the back. Fantastic for guests, as Toby said.

I've also taken great care over the furnishings. A tasteful mix of modern and antique, I think you'd say. Modern for the useful things like the kitchen and bathroom and sound system and lighting and all that. Antique for the totems. I have become a bit of an expert at trawling shops and sounding like I know what I'm talking about. And I found a field in Sussex, which four or five times a year is transformed into a giant antiques market. People from eastern Europe drive over huge trucks filled with pieces from their past and laugh at all of us prepared to part with hundreds of pounds for things that would be burned in their country. You're meant to bargain with them, but often I can't be bothered, often I get swept away with it. Because there is something amazing about running your hand along the back of a chair and finding grooves and ridges and realizing that yours is only one of so many hands that must have done exactly this.

I bought a cupboard last time and when I got it home and opened it there were loads of telephone numbers written in pencil inside the door. Marta 03201, Cossi 98231, and so on and so on. It felt like a story without a beginning, middle, or end. They struck me as the possible workings of a private investigator, or even clues in a murder case. I had imagined having it stripped and painted a dark gray, but after I found the numbers I left it exactly as it was, with flaking green paint and an internal drawer that sticks whenever you try to open it. I've become attached to the rootlessness of the numbers. I like the thought that none of us will ever know what really happened to these women or to the person who wrote down their numbers. But I'm not sure what V will think about the cupboard. Perhaps she will want to smooth the numbers away.

The colors on the walls all belong to V. Lots of navy blues and dark grays, even black in places, which the interior designer assured me wasn't depressing anymore. She encouraged me to have the outside of the cupboards in the walk-in wardrobe painted a shining black and the insides a deep scarlet. She told me it was opulent, but I'm not sure she was right because all I see when I walk into the room is leather and dried blood.

* * *

Almost the first piece of mail I received after I moved in was an invitation to V's wedding. It came in a cream-colored envelope and felt heavy in my hand, my not yet familiar address calligraphied in a fine ink. The same flowery hand had emblazoned my name across the top of the card, which was thick and soft, the black lettering raised and tactile. I stared at my name for a long time, so long I could imagine the hand holding the pen, see the delicate strokes used. There was a slight smudge against the i, but apart from that it was perfect. I took the invitation into the drawing room and rested it on the mantelpiece, underneath the gilt mirror, behind the tall silver candlesticks. My hand, I noticed, was shaking slightly and I knew I was hotter than the day allowed. I kept my hand against the cool marble of the fireplace surround and concentrated on the intricate curls holding up the perfect flatness of the shelf. It reminded me that pure, flawless marble is one of the most desired materials known to man, but also one of the hardest to find. If it's easy it's probably not worth having, V said to me once, and that made me smile, standing in my drawing room with my hand against the marble.

I knew what she was doing, it was all fine.

* * *

I had e-mailed V from New York to let her know I was coming home. That was when she replied to say she was getting married. It was the first piece of correspondence we'd had since Christmas and it shook me very badly. I had only stopped trying to contact her in February and I e-mailed with my news at the end of April, which meant she'd only had a couple of months to meet someone and agree to marry him. "I know you'll be surprised," she wrote, "but also I think your silence these past few months means you've accepted that we are over and want to move on as much as me. Who knows, perhaps you already have! And I know it seems quick, but I also know I'm doing the right thing. I feel like I owe you an apology for the way I reacted to what happened at Christmas. Perhaps you just realized before I did that we were over and I shouldn't have behaved as I did, I should have sat down and spoken properly to you. I hope you'll be happy for me and I also hope that we'll be able to be friends. You were and are very special to me and I couldn't bear the thought of not having you in my life."

For a few days I felt simply numb, as if an explosion had gone off next to me and shattered my body. But I quickly realized how pedestrian this reaction was. Apart from all the love she clearly still had for me, V seemed to be under the impression that I had wanted the relationship to end. Her breezy tone was so far removed from the V whom I knew, that I wondered for a moment if she had been kidnapped and someone else was writing her e-mails. The much more plausible explanations were that V was not herself, or that she was using her tone to send me a covert message. There were two options at play: either she had lost her mind with the distress I had caused her at Christmas and jumped into the arms of the nearest fool, or she needed me to pay for what I'd done. This seemed by far the most likely; this was V after all and she would need me to witness my own remorse. It was as if the lines of her e-mail dissolved and behind them were her true words. This was a game, our favorite game. It was obvious that we were beginning a new, more intricate Crave.

* * *

I left it a few days before replying to V's e-mail and then I chose my words carefully. I adopted her upbeat tone and told her I was very happy for her and of course we would still be friends. I also told her I would be in touch with my address when I got back to London, but after the invitation landed on my mat I knew I needn't bother. It meant she had called Elaine and that in itself meant something. It also meant that she probably wasn't as angry as she had been. I quickly came to see the invitation for what it was: the first hand in an elaborate apology, a dance only V and I could ever master. I even felt sorry for Angus Metcalf, as the ridiculous invitation revealed him to be.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Our Kind of Cruelty"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Araminta Hall.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Begin Reading,
About the Author,
Copyright,

Reading Group Guide

1. As the book begins, Mike Hayes, the narrator and main character, is in prison. His barrister has told him to write down the story of events leading to the murder for which he will soon go to trial. Why does the barrister say that Mike’s story feels like “something he can’t grab hold of”? What are clues in Part I that Mike’s version of events may not be accurate? Are there things he tells us about himself that reveal more than he intends?

2. When Mike and Verity met, as students at university, they were both promising young people from very different backgrounds. What initially drew them together? What challenges did they each face and how were they suited to help each other? As their relationship progressed over nine years, how did they each change?

3. What is the Crave, the game Mike and Verity play? How did it begin and how was it named? What does Mike read into Verity’s e-mails and meetings with him that make him believe her marriage to Angus is “the ultimate Crave”?

4. Why does Verity invite Mike to the wedding? Why does she get back in touch with him at all?

5. What is Kaitlyn’s motivation for befriending Mike? How does he interpret her kindness? What does she mean when she says they are both outsiders at work? How does she come to suspect that he is not what he seems?

6. “Eagles are magnificent,” Verity tells Mike, explaining to him why she wears a necklace with a silver eagle on it. What does the eagle mean to her? What does it mean to Mike?

7. Mike’s childhood was a combination of cruelty and kindness—a boyhood of damaging cruelty, followed by foster care with Elaine and Barry, who loved him and tried to repair the damage done to him by his mother and her boyfriends. What are instances of kindness and cruelty toward Mike or between other characters? How does Mike respond to kindness? What is his idea of love?

8. What is in the box that Elaine gives Mike when he goes away to university? Which objects are meaningful to him? Even though he says he meant to throw it away at the first opportunity, why has he kept it? How is Mike a combination of the cruelties and kindnesses that the objects in the box represent?

9. What is the sequence of events leading to Angus’s death? Are there signs that Mike is an angry man who might be capable of killing? Who else might bear some of the responsibility for Mike’s actions?

10. The testimony given at the trial often challenges Mike’s version of events. For example, he tells us that Verity’s friend Louise made a pass at him at Verity’s wedding. But Louise testifies that she had never liked Mike, that he was agitated at the wedding and had pushed her. Which version of the story is more believable? What are other examples of testimony that contradict Mike?

11. “I am well practiced in ruining things,” Mike thinks as he remembers the events leading to Angus’s death. What leads him to make this observation? Is he a confused and grieving man who has been betrayed by circumstance or a man who deliberately chooses to do wrong—the dangerous fantasist invoked by Petra Gardner or the confused “good lad” his foster mother believes him to be? Does he deserve any sympathy?

12. Besides Verity, are there other people who matter to Mike? How would they describe him? How do his impulses, either cruel or kind—toward his foster parents, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances—intensify during the months after Verity leaves him?

13. The media covers the trial as a scandal and relishes in reporting every detail of Verity’s background and relationships. Why are the press and public opinion more focused on her than on Mike? Why do they seem eager to assume she is guilty? Is she treated fairly in court?

14. As the book ends, Mike receives the YOU ARE NOT postcard from Verity. Why did Verity send the postcard? How does Mike interpret her message? Why does he believe he has “saved” her?

15. The epigraph that opens the book (from The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch) implies that Our Kind of Cruelty is essentially a love story. Is it? What else does the epigraph foreshadow?

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