words matter review: helen cadbury’s ‘to catch a rabbit’

By Erin Byrne

Helen Cadbury’s To Catch a Rabbit is at its core a quintessential crime story, and a fantastic one at that.

Over the course of the book we mainly follow PSCO Sean Denton after he stumbles across a young dead Chinese woman in a catering trailer on one of his first days on the job. This leads him unwittingly into a world of seedy caravans, prostitutes and council estate gang bosses. Sean is the epitome of the underdog, looked down on and ignored by his colleagues, including the inherently unlikable Barry ‘Burger’ King, his boss. Despite this, Sean works overtime to uncover what exactly is going on. Cadbury writes Sean in a brilliantly human way, with occasional moments of wide-eyed innocence woven in with his unyielding morality and desire for justice to be served. An example of the humanity that makes Sean such a likeable character is when he gives the dead girl a name, Su-Mai. He is slightly cheeky and more than a little funny in some places, which helps him to gain the attention of his workplace crush, Lizzie, who is a couple of ranks above him.

Parallel to the main protagonist’s story, a woman named Karen’s brother goes missing. Karen is a slightly frazzled and overworked mother of two in a marriage turning more and more sour by the day, and her brother’s disappearance definitely shakes her to her core. Professionally, she works for RAMA (the Refugee and Migrant’s Advice Service) which is why her path crosses with Sean Denton’s later on. Karen is one of my personal favourite characters in the novel. She is an incredibly strong woman balancing work, kids, a crumbling relationship, and the disappearance of her family member, and she does so with dignity and a very Yorkshire stiff upper lip. She is not without her faults, but this is what draws me to her even more; nobody is one hundred percent perfect and the acknowledgement of that from Cadbury is one of the things that makes the reader really care about the characters in To Catch a Rabbit, and also makes it a very successful crime novel.

One successful moment in this book that illustrates the extent to which it is a quintessential crime story is when Sean is being kidnapped by the criminals behind the prostitution ring, one of which is DCI Barry ‘Burger’ King himself. Sean is the epitome of being quietly good and watching as evil trips over its own feet. Our underdog keeps his cool and refuses to buckle even when his own boss is waving a knife in his face and duct taping his mouth closed. The ending of the novel is incredibly successful and most of all, satisfying without tying up every single loose thread.

People should read this novel, especially if they are from Yorkshire and want to see an honest representation of their county, from the countryside to the council houses, and all the people that come along with it.

To Catch a Rabbit is a fantastic, moving book and Cadbury a brilliant author who writes with wit, tact, and humour when it is needed.

Helen Cadbury’s To Catch a Rabbit was the official book of the York Big City Read 2017. The book was taught on both the Literature programme and the Liberal Arts Foundation Year at York St John University.