"This is simply one of the nastiest and most disturbing thrillers I've read in years. In short: I loved it, right down to the utterly chilling final line." Gillian Flynn, New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl
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 emails 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…
A spellbinding, darkly twisted audiobook 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.
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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
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.
Excerpted from "Our Kind of Cruelty"
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
About the Author,
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 kindnessa 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 wrongthe 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 kindtoward his foster parents, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintancesintensify 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?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This books hooks you from the start & doesn't stop. You will lose sleep because it's definitely a page turner. Hope to read more of her books. Martha Byrd
Araminta Hall takes the concept of an unreliable narrator to a whole new level in her latest novel, Our Kind of Cruelty. Mike Hayes is, by all appearances, a successful man. He has overcome a dismal childhood that forced him into the foster care system, and now is a wealthy and cosmopolitan man. He narrates this story of his one true love and describes their connection as predestined. Mike is convinced that their marriage would be the inevitable culmination of a perfect life. The object of his undying affection is “V,” a woman he met in college who shares his affinity for a seduction game they call “the Crave.” A business opportunity across the Atlantic has separated them for two years, followed by a falling out that led to their recent estrangement. Mike returns from New York, determined to win V back with a new house and an opportunity for a fresh start. Shortly after his arrival, he is shocked to receive an invitation to the wedding of his beloved and another man. Still, he is convinced that V is just introducing another iteration of their game of “Crave.” As the novel continues, Mike’s motivations, true character and disturbing past are revealed. The reader begins to question his level of delusion about his relationship with V, and wonders at what lengths he would go to maintain it. Hall constructs a novel that teeters on the edge of violence, with a seeping feeling of dread. There were parts of the book that seemed a bit repetitive and overly graphic, and readers with a heightened sensitivity to sexual violence might find Our Kind of Cruelty a challenge. As a character study and experiment with perspective, it is a nice example of how unchecked desire can corrupt the truth.
While I did find this book to be a bit slow-paced early on, once it got its hooks in me, I found myself rather lost in it. Mike had a tragic childhood and isn’t much of a people person. The few people he does love, he is very loyal too and especially protective of. This is particularly true of his longtime love Verity. When she leaves him, seemingly over a mistake he made, he is beyond devastated, and becomes convinced that it is an elaborate play in a bizarre love game they created years ago. Ever loyal, he “plays along”, despite her protests, and in the end, neither of them knows which way is up. The thing I love most about this book is how well-crafted it was. Even now, I’m not sure what I believe. Maybe I was so invested in Mike that I’ve developed some bias, or maybe my distaste for Verity made me see something that wasn’t there. I. Don’t. Know. And it isn’t that it was confusing, it’s just…I liked Mike. I empathized with him. Things are not always black and white, and Mike is heavily in the gray area for me. It would not surprise me to hear that many others disagree. Ultimately, if you are ok with a slow start, this is a pretty decent read. In fact, I might put it in my reread pile just to get some clarification for myself. Note: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
I have heard really mixed reviews on this book - but for me this was a massive win. Synopsis: Mike Hayes had a terrible childhood - an alcoholic mother, always hungry, and bouncing between foster homes until he was finally taken in permanently by a loving and caring couple. The tumultuous beginning to his life led him down a quiet and lonely life, until he met Verity. Verity was the first person to understand him, the first person he could really trust and the first person he could love fully. Mike dedicates his life to creating the perfect world for V - the perfect house, making sure he has a great job, working hard to look like the perfect man, anything to ensure that V is the happiest woman alive. It doesn't matter that V isn't returning his emails, or that she is about to marry another man - Mike knows this is all just part of an elaborate game they play, and he is committed to seeing it through as a testament of his love for her. This book is PERFECT when it comes to creep factor. Araminta Hall has created something masterful in twisting together the line between obsession and love, while blurring who is at fault until you as the reader can't be exactly sure who you are rooting for in the story. I love books with complex and flawed characters, and this book has two lead characters who are deeply twisted characters at their cores, which had me fully engaged with the story. I was absorbed entirely in seeing where this book took me as a reader - every time I thought that it couldn't go any further, it did. It is like watching a car accident about to happen - you want to reach out to stop it, but can't, and meanwhile, can't tear your eyes away from the wreckage. I think this should be on the to-read pile of anyone who loves a good psychological thriller, as well as any reader who loves reading a good, dark, twisting take on a love story - this book will not disappoint!
Mike was a twisted dude. I mean they both were twisted in the beginning and then later as I read, I was shaking my head for Mike just couldn’t seem to find reality. He was so confused that I began to wonder if perhaps I was the one confused. Dang, this novel was great! Crave. It’s a game that Mike and V created, where an intense reuniting is the grand finale to this activity. It begins when V appears alone at the bar. They wait until a strange male approaches her. As this male begins to talk to her, to hit on her, the excitement begins. Mike rushes to the scene and he calls the man off. It’s a huge turn-on for both of them and they like to do this, a lot. I find it disturbing. I found as I read, that Mike seems too obsessed with V, whereas V likes Mike but not to the same degree that he likes her. It’s decided that Mike would go to America to work for a few years, he’ll make more money there in a shorter amount of time. V will stay in London. When Mike returns to London, Mike tells V of his one-time affair. Well, that set V off and they ended up parting. Not long after that, V informs Mike that she is getting married. What? That didn’t take V long and now, I am starting to dislike V. Mike feels that V is still in love with him and that this is part of a secret Crave that she has created for him. He is so excited about this Crave, you can feel his anticipation and enthusiasm. I start to become obsessed with this novel as everything Mike sees and hears is about this new secret Crave, I mean everything! I am thinking, no Mike you are just a crazy, obsessed person. I begin to wonder what will happen when Mike realizes that she doesn’t like him anymore. Will he lose it? Will he walk away or go off? Mike starts to change his life for V but yet she is getting married to SOMEONE ELSE, hello Mike…. can’t you see what’s happening in front of you? Mike starts to pass out from drinking and not remembering what happened. I can’t even begin to tell you where I thought this was headed. He starts to email her and his emails are off the wall. I’m wondering what V is thinking when she gets them. Then, when he finally confronts her face-to-face, I was like holding my breath because was this really happening? I was now totally confused but loving every minute of it. This was one twisted book. Seriously, I loved this book! I couldn’t get enough of it. If you could see my copy, you would think I had it for years as it looks like, it has seen better days. I crunched it, it is water damaged from being around the pool, the covers do not lie down right, this book looks loved. If you like a dark, creepy, psycho thriller with some sex in it (not graphic sex) then, I highly recommend this novel. 4.5 stars I won a copy of this novel from a Goodreads Giveaway – thank you Farrar, Straub and Giroux for the novel. This review is my own honest opinion.
After reading so many great mystery and/or thrillers this year, my last two have been big duds. If you’re looking for a creepy stalkerish type character, I recommend Caroline Kepnes’ You over this one.
I knew this was going to be a read that I enjoyed right off the bat! This story follows this sick game of love that Mike and Verity have/had when they were together. The plot follows Mike playing what he thinks is Verity way of showing that she wants him to "fight for her" very much so reminded me of Joe from You by Caroline Kepnes.
A love story told by Mikes viewpoint. It's a twisty spellbinding thriller. Very good book and I recommend to those who like this genre.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Publisher for an ARC of this book! This book was CRAZY. The first person narrative really added so much to the story, getting inside Mike’s twisted head. It was so interesting because while you know that Mike was in the wrong the entire time, stalking V, making up fantasies in his head, and ultimately taking drastic steps on his own... the way it is written truly makes you wonder at V’s part in the whole thing. It’s easy to see both sides, looking at things from the outside you see Mike’s guilt, but looking at things from inside Mike’s head makes you wonder if he’s not the only guilty one. The court drama really does make you question both V and Mike. What really is the truth of it all? From V’s perspective you can see that Mike is crazy and delusional and that it was never a healthy relationship. But still at the same time from Mike’s perspective I was sometimes mad at V, because I think she did overreact (or sometimes under-react) and lead him on and generally didn’t handle things in the right way. And it led to devastating consequences. That’s about all I can say without spoilers. Every part was compelling, the beginning with Mike’s stalking leading up to the court drama which had me on the edge of my seat wondering how it would all play out. As I said, being inside Mike’s head, seeing his twisted reasoning, was entertaining and scary at the same time. I really enjoyed this book throughout and would be interested in reading anything from this author again!
This is one very creepy book. Unlike other thrillers there isn't really much that you don't expect. It's the way in which Mike tells the story that is creepy. Mike feels that his ex (a woman he refers to as simply V) is trying to continue playing a game they refer to as the Crave. It's a disturbing book, in much the same way Gone Girl was disturbing. If you're looking for something to read this summer, or even into the autumn (Halloween reading) I can't recommend this book enough.
Wow, this guy Mike was definitely cray, cray. The whole book was about him and Verity (V). The author really only showed us things from his point of view. And, his point of view IMO delved way into the fantastical. The author never tells you what V is thinking until she makes her statement at trial. I've read reviews where people are blaming either V or Mike and why they they feel that why. Here's mine, for what it's worth. I think Mike is pretty much delusional in his thoughts and V did not know how to handle him. Every time she told him that she loved someone else, he would dismiss it and carry on as if she had said nothing. I think everyone is going to see something different in their regard to this question. An interesting book that will be debated by everyone who reads it. It had me shaking my head many times and saying "unbelievable, how he sees things". I can only say, read it and see what you think. Thanks to Farrar, Strous & Giroux and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
A creepy, dark tale of obsession! I thought this book was about a game called The Crave, played by Mike and Verity, who were deeply in love but had some kinky sexual interests. Mike came from a horrid childhood where he was pitifully neglected, but once adopted he went on to university and did well and became wealthy. Mike met Verity met at university and loved her totally and completely. He went to America to live for awhile and their relationship continued, but then he received a wedding invitation - to Verity's wedding to a man named Angus. The book really creeped me out and for awhile I had the wrong impression of what was really going on. An interesting psychological read and I kept wondering what was going to happen next - almost like a chess game between the characters. An absorbing book that made me keep reading to better understand what was really happening. Thanks to Araminta Hall and Farrar, Straus and Giroux through Netgalley for an advance copy.