1966. A horrifying crime at a secondary school, with devastating consequences for all involved.
2008. A life-changing gift, if only the recipient can work out why . . .
Bearing the scars of a recent divorce – and the splatters of two young children – Ellen Sutherland is up to her elbows in professional and personal stress. When she’s invited to travel all the way out to Cheltenham to hear the content of an old woman’s will, she can barely be bothered to make the journey.
But when she arrives, the news is astounding. Eudora Nash has left Ellen a beautiful cottage, worth an amount of money that could turn her life around. There’s just one problem – Ellen has never even heard of Eudora Nash.
Her curiosity piqued, Ellen and her friend Kate travel to the West Country in search of answers. But they are not the only ones interested in the cottage, and Ellen little imagines how much she has to learn about her past . . . (Goodreads)
The novel opens with a horrific crime committed in 1966 by twelve-year-old boy, John Michael Adams, who is later named as every parent’s worst nightmare. He walks into the school playground and douses two older girls with petrol before setting them alight and walking away, being sentenced to several years in prison. The plot then shifts to 2008 and introduces our protagonist, Ellen Sutherland, who is readjusting her life following her recent divorce. Holding down her job and looking after two children takes up all of her time and effort, so when she receives a letter from a solicitor, her first instinct is to throw it in the spam pile.
However, opening the letter will change Ellen’s life forever, as she discovers that she has been left a countryside cottage worth almost eight hundred thousand. She is convinced that there must be some mistake, as she has never heard of the deceased woman, Eudora Nash, and has no idea why a stranger would have left her something so significant. Upon viewing the cottage for the first time, Ellen comes face-to-face with a journalist named O’Halloran, who poses as an old friend of Eudora’s in an attempt to gain access to her paperwork. Ellen swiftly turns him away and sets about her own investigation to work out why this old lady has taken such an interest in her life.
Her search leads her in directions she could never have imagined, once more bringing her up against O’Halloran and trying to trick some answers out of the journalist. He was responsible for reporting on the Adams case, and is still trying to track down the boy and his new identity in order to complete the most revealing biography. We get to see some of his old interviews with the families in the past; slowly taking steps forward to work out how Ellen could possibly be connected with such an old case.
As past and present are brought together, this book creates an intriguing mystery that I was desperate to get to the bottom of. It is unclear for a long time how Ellen might be related to the Adams case, with there being several guesses made throughout the course of her investigation. The novel also deals very well with the time shifts, with the scenes being cleverly put together as Ellen advances her knowledge, giving us appropriate segments from O’Halloran’s previous discoveries and interrogations in 1974. I particularly liked how everything fell into place towards the conclusion, giving this mystery a satisfactory ending.
Ellen came into her own as a protagonist as the novel went on, proving to have a very intuitive mind and making clever leaps between clues. She seems to know instinctively when she’s being lied to, and makes some very astute observations about certain characters, picking up on O’Halloran’s lies almost immediately. Facing a high degree of emotional upheaval, Ellen copes superbly well throughout the book, especially given the fact her mother’s dementia is deteriorating ever further. This means that she can’t gather much information from her relatives and is very much on her own, proving her mental strength again and again.
The other characters introduced throughout this novel are also explored in great detail, and you really get an immediate sense of who they are from the beginning. I would say that the only one who remains aloof is the notorious John Michael Adams, who we don’t really get to know until the conclusion and about whom you are left to make up your own mind. Is there ever really an excusable reason for such a despicable crime, and has he come to atone for his actions? Are we right to sympathise with him after O’Halloran’s relentless hounding?
I loved the number of questions and mysteries raised by this book, as two seemingly unrelated characters are slowly brought together following a carefully pieced together investigation. I think the writing style perfectly suited the genre and I was gradually pulled in further as the novel continued. This is one of my favourite mysteries of the year, and I’m sorry I waited so long to read it. I would definitely recommend this book if you can get your hands on it, as it offers a thriller with a human twist that really makes you contemplate how closely crime is related to daily life.