The Orphan Choir is a departure from Sophie Hannah’s Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer mystery/thriller series. It still is darkly atmospheric and features her trademark neurotic characters but goes off in another direction.
Louise Beeston’s neighbor on her Cambridge street regularly wakes her up playing loud rock music late at night. When she goes over to complain in the beginning of the novel, he ridicules her in front of his friends and refuses to turn the music down. Louise’s husband Stuart can sleep through anything and doesn’t want her to call the police, but she does anyway. They refer her to the Council.
The music stops as the representative from the Council, Patricia Jervis, arrives, but Patricia seems very sympathetic and takes the complaint. Louise also complains to Jervis that her neighbor mocked her for sending her son Joseph away to school at the age of seven. Louise is actually very unhappy about the decision, but Joseph was given a place at a school that requires him to board if he is in the choir, and Stuart insists that she would be ruining Joseph’s chances if they send him to a different school.
Louise continues to hear music, but the neighbor seems to have begun a more insidious program of sometimes quietly playing choir music of children singing. After Louise turns on some loud music of her own at 6 a.m., when she knows the neighbor is sleeping, the rock music stops but the choir music continues.
With the house being renovated, Louise talks Stuart into buying a second home in a gated community in the country. Peace is the rule there, and she is happy and calm for awhile until an argument with Stuart about removing Joseph from the school results in Stuart summoning Dr. Freeman, the director of the choir, whom Louise despises. Suddenly, she begins hearing the choir music again, but without her neighbor nearby, she fears she is going crazy.
As I am familiar with Hannah’s other novels, I suspected someone was gaslighting Louise, possibly her husband, who seems genial but overrides and undercuts her at many points during the novel, including summoning Dr. Freeman without discussing it with her first. Another suspect is Dr. Freeman, who seems creepy and overly concerned with whether Joseph is in his choir or not. However, I won’t say whether I was right. I think I prefer Hannah’s mysteries, but if you like novels that are unusual and slightly macabre, you may enjoy this one.