Sisters of Fury is the fourth novel by Keith Jacobsen, and is the first of his novels that I’ve read. There is an autobiographical element to the novel, as the writer and his protagonist both attended Oxford University, and presumably the same college.
The novel is narrated by Jack Roberts, who at the very start of the novel is in prison in a foreign country, for the murder of his friend Hasan. This is in no sense a spoiler, as this information is revealed in the first three pages of the novel. The rest of the novel explores the relationships between Jack and Hasan, and with Hasan and Sister Mary Magdalene.
Jack and Hasan meet at Oxford University in 1968, and are from very different backgrounds. Jack comes from a lower middle class family, deeply suspicious of higher education. They reluctantly allow him to go, with the expectation that he will soon drop out, and get a safe if poorly paid office job, like his father. Hasan is from a wealthy family from the fictional Middle Eastern country Sharastan. Jack drifts through university, forever on the verge of dropping out, when to his surprise he graduates.
Inevitably Jack and Hasan lose touch with each other after university. Jack by accident sees him on TV, ten years later, where Hasan is promoting his new book. On a whim Jack goes to one of his events, where he encounters the mysterious Ursula, who is equally obsessed with Hasan. The novel picks up at this point, moving speedily on through the events leading up to Hasan’s murder.
The novel is set in two different time periods, both in the recent past; Oxford University in the late 1960’s, and the early 1980’s. Jacobsen is very good at evoking these periods, which is harder to do than earlier periods, which are not in some readers’ living memory.
The characters are well-drawn and distinctive, although I found that the male characters to be more distinctive than the female characters. The central character of Jack is particularly memorable, although I found him to be a puzzle, especially regarding his life after graduation.
Although I was sent this novel to review as a crime novel, it is not really a crime novel, or a psychological thriller. Although a crime has been committed, it is revealed on the first page, and remains peripheral to the novel. There is also little action, with more attention spent telling us about the backgrounds of the characters. This is not to say that I didn’t like the book, which I did, finding it a refreshing change from several crime novels I have recently read. Readers will enjoy this novel if they prefer character led novels, rather than novels reliant on a fast moving plot.