Five Bad Deeds
December 5, 2023

Book Review

Five Bad Deeds

reviewed by Warner Holme

Caz Frear’s Five Bad Deeds examines the complex web of one life and its entanglements with others, revealing the potentially harmful consequences of our actions.

Ellen Walsh, a mostly content mother and wife, grapples with her own secrets and gossip. After a long night, she faces a breathalyzer test the following morning, which spirals into a series of harassing mails and social media messages. These events trigger her anxiety, particularly because she harbors a secret about someone close to her, escalating her sense of suspicion. The narrative structure unravels from these incidents, spotlighting Ellen’s past actions — the titular “bad deeds” — which, though not criminal, could cause harm.

Frear frequently shifts perspectives throughout the novel. While the story primarily centers on Ellen, these viewpoint changes expedite the delivery of hints and information, keeping Ellen oblivious. This technique is particularly effective in chapters featuring social media posts, like those about Orla. However, readers should pay close attention to the subtle changes in narrative style and check the chapter headings for clarity.

A pivotal character is Zane, a teenager with a clear crush on Ellen. His feelings complicate Ellen’s life, leading to implications and false accusations of pedophilia, a theme that may be off-putting for some readers. This narrative choice, which suggests the prevalence of false accusations, is not fully supported by real-world evidence and may be a contentious point for some.

The novel touches on intergenerational conflict early on, exemplified by Gwen, who resents her inability to afford a home due to the UK’s inflated housing market. While Gwen’s frustration is portrayed negatively, the novel overlooks the genuine economic hardships facing younger generations, potentially alienating some readers.

Five Bad Deeds thrives on suspense and a plot full of twists, constantly suggesting new motives for Ellen’s harassment. However, some elements of the story may seem out of touch or poorly chosen. Fans of Frear will likely enjoy this book, but new readers should consider the sensitive subject matter, as it may be more distressing for some.

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