The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase (2018)

I wanted a book that would pull me out of this cold, dark winter, a book that would would hold me captive, and this book did that wonderfully well.

Two narratives, separated by fifty years, tell a story of sisters and secrets, of an unsolved mystery and its consequences, and of how family relationships are changed by events and by the passage of time.

The first story is told by fifteen year-old Margot Wilde, the third of four sisters who live a happy, bohemian life in fifties London. When their widowed mother is presented with the chance of a summer in Morocco she seizes it, and sends her girls to stay with their Aunt Sibyl and Uncle Perry at Applegate Manor in the Cotswolds. It would be their first visit since their cousin Audrey had disappeared five years earlier.

Margot had been particularly close to Audrey, they had always resembled one another; and when she was in her family home, when she saw how deeply her disappearance still troubled her aunt, she couldn’t help being drawn into the life that he cousin had left behind and being troubled by the unsolved mystery.

It was unsettling for all four sisters, and because the summer was warm they were able to spend much of their time outside, That was how they came to meet Tom and Harry Gore, whose family spent their summers at the neighbouring Coniston Place. And that was what unsettled the relationship between the four sisters ….

The second story is told by thirty-five year-old Jessie, who has persuaded her husband to but Applegate Manor. It stretched their finances, almost to breaking point, but Jessie was sure that moving out of London and settling in the country was the best thing for her family. It would allow her to give her young daughter the upbringing she wanted,; it would give her a chance to improve her relationship with her stepdaughter, who she didn’t think had been able to come to terms with her mother’s death a few years earlier; and it would allow her to escape from the very long shadow cast by her husband’s first wife.

None of that would be simple, nothing really went to plan, and when she learned the history of her new home Jessie began to question whether she had really done the right thing for her family ….

I was captivated by each story, because both narratives had the ring of truth as they spoke in their different ways of evolving family relationships, of the ways that the past can haunt the present, and the complications the come with growing up.

The echoes and the differences were beautifully handled,  with subtlety and the lightness of touch that made it feel completely natural and right. I particularly liked the contrast between the bright and warm summer days of the past and the cold and wet days of the present.

Of course, all of that would only work if the characters were engaging, and they were. They lived and breathed, and they pulled me right into their stories. I always love stories about sisters and I loved that these sisters were both distinctive and alike, and that the relationships between them were so very well drawn. The characters of step-mother and step-daughter in the present day were just as well done, and I was very impressed by the way that the relationship between the two was drawn and the way that it evolved.

The plot was beautifully and thoughtfully constructed; and there were times when I saw exactly where the story was going and there were times when my expectations were very cleverly subverted. The way that the two stories came together was particularly good, and I was held to the very last page.

The writing was the best thing of all. It was vivid, it was evocative, and it was impressionistic. I was never really aware that I was reading descriptive passages, that I was reading the narrator’s thoughts, and yet I drew so much about the times, about the places, about the lives being lived, from the two narratives.

Houses are never just houses. I’m quite sure of this now. We leave particles behind, dust and dreams, fingerprints buried on wallpapers, our tread in the wear of the stairs. And we take bits of the houses with us. In my case, a love of the smell of wax polish on sun-warmed oak, late summer filtering through stained glass. We grow up. We stay the same. We move away, but we live forever where we were most alive.

I can easily forgive some things that felt improbable, some things that fell into place too easily, because there were so many more things in this book that I loved.

It was one of those books that made me think that the author and I have read and loved many of the same books.

I picked up her previous book from the library today, and I am looking forward to what comes next.

The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland (2018)

I live very close to the sea, close enough for the house to shake and sea spray to wash the widows when the full moon brings the highest of tides and there is a strong wind behind it; but with a road and a promenade separating us, and a house that has stood since the late 19th century, we feel safe and secure, for the rest of our lives at least.

Juliet Blaxland’s house by the sea is rather less secure; and this book was sparked by a timely prompt, to which she responded:

The house on the edge of the cliff was demolished this week, which means we are now the house of the edge of the cliff.

She knows that her house will have to be demolished in a few years time, because the soft cliffs are crumbling under the relentless pressure of winds and tides, and so the land on which it stands will be undermined.

This memoir of one of the last years spent in the house of the edge of the cliff takes the form of a journal, and each month there is an image, a well chosen piece of poetry and prose, all of the details of seasonal produce and events that you would expect a countrywoman to record – and the distance from the edge of the cliff and its change from the previous month. In some months there was no change at all, in other months there were visible losses, and over the course of the year the distance fell from 24 to 19 metres.

The author wrote about that with wit and with grace.

You will not find the church of St. Nicholas, Easton Bavents, in your Pevsner guide to the buildings of Suffolk, nor will you you feel guilty when you repeatedly fail to be present in your pew as a regular member of the congregation, for you have the perfect excuse for missing matins on a Sunday morning: you are not a fish. As our parish church sits quietly on the seabed, part buried here, recognisable pieces of architecture there, perhaps a little buttress among the silvery bass swimming round the ruins beneath the waves, the memory of its existence adds to the sense of calm.

The house on the edge of the cliff was rented, but she had grown up in the area; and this is a book about much, much more than that one house and coastal erosion.

Each month’s journal records the world around her and considers a different subject. Some are clearly seasonal – there are winter storms, there is a summer night on the dunes, there is an attempt to create a crop circle – but there are others that simply reflect life in the country, and how some things have changed while others remain the same.

The writing is rich and evocative, and it is also clear-sighted about the practical realities of living on the east coast and the prospects for the future. The coastal area that Juliet Blaxland knows and loves is in many ways different to my coastal home, but her writing has allowed me to come to know it well and to understand the depth of her feelings for the place she calls home.

Her thoughts were wonderfully wide-ranging, she found so many different things to write about, but themes recurred: the acceptance that nature cannot always be controlled and that there are times when it much be allowed to go its own way; the the increasing speed of change and the importance of considering its consequences; and the ultimate realisation that even the longest of human lives is insignificant when compare with the lifetime of the setting of those lives.

Not all of her interests interested me, the quality of the writing was a little variable, but I was always engaged.

I loved her voice, I loved that she was able to see beauty and charm in simple, everyday things that many people wouldn’t notice, and I particularly loved that she saw hope for the future in the power of nature and the knowledge that tides must always turn.

The physical book is a lovely thing, and it caught my eye in my local bookshop before it was first long-listed and then short-listed for the Wainwright Prize. I was delighted to see that progression, and I would be happy to see it progress one step further ….

Its final words are, inevitably, elegaic:

When our part of this nature-wrought and romantic place goes, the memory of life here will go with it. Where once Chuffy the Brindle Greyhound bombed about the beach and Cockle the Cockerel gently heralded the dawn with his rural sounds, and our skyline  hens laid beautiful blue eggs, and our vegetable garden thrived, and we loved the place so much, one day, where all that had been, there will only be a particular volume of sky over the sea which will hold all these memories in its air, and the people on the beach will not know.

And it catches those memories beautifully.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (2018)

This is the kind of book I used to love but now read very rarely – a long, sprawling, mainstream novel, holding stories set in the present and the past. I picked it up because I loved the idea of a maker of clocks, because I was curious to see what made the author so successful, and because I was eager to escape into a book for a long, long time.

At the heart of this book are events that played out in the summer of 1862.

A group of artists and models gathered at the country estate of Edward Radcliffe, the most successful of those artists. Their sojourn in the country was brought to a sudden and brutal end when Radcliffe’s fiancee was shot dead, and his model and a priceless diamond vanished without trace.

Much could have been done with that story, that setting, those characters, but the detail is only filled in at the very end of the book, after all of the other stories that it touches have been explored.

Those stories have some lovely ingredients:

  • In present day London, an archivist makes a strange discovery that she is quite sure is tied to a story that she had been told as a child.
  • After losing her husband early in the Second World War, a young widow leaves London to raise her children in the country.
  • Between the wars, a biographer visits Birchwood Manor to research a book about about Edward Radcliffe, his circle and the events of the summer of 1862.
  • Years before that, the house had been turned into a school, and one girl was desperately unhappy when her parents went away and left her there.


The book moves between all of those stories, sometimes staying with one for a long time and sometimes staying for a very short while. It might have been confusing, but somehow it wasn’t. It felt quite natural, and I liked all of the stories; some more than others, but I was always interested and I was always curious to know what might happen, and how all of the different strands would be tied together in the end.

There is one more story at the centre of the book; and you might say that it is the story around which all the others spin. This story is the richest, in colour, in character, in history, and in drama. It is the life story of the clockmaker’s daughter, who it seems will always be tied to Birchwood Manor.

The book as a whole – the picture that all of its stories paint – is beautifully and thoughtfully wrought. I think of painting pictures because I was very taken with the way that the author started each story simply and gradually introduced more details so that the characters and their lives became utterly real. I might have known them, or known of them, had I lived in the right age.

I would have loved to visit Birchwood Manor. There wasn’t a great deal of description, and that left room to imagine. The house lived and breathed, and it was easy to understand why it drew in different people over the years.

I particularly appreciated that the theme of loss, how we deal with it and how it affects us, is threaded though all of these stories. There is a young woman who never knew her wonderfully gifted mother and feels a little overshadowed by her; there is a man who lost his brother in the great war and was plagued by survivor’s guilt; there is a girl who loses the childhood home in India that she dearly loved when she was sent ‘home’ to England to be educated; there is ….

The narrators had clearly been carefully chosen, and not only for that thematic link. It allowed some characters to be familiar and some to be rather less knowable, and though I would have liked to have known some of them rather better I did appreciate that the author’s choices were right for the tale that she had to tell and the mystery that had to be unravelled.

I was particularly taken with Edward Racdliffe’s much younger sister. She was bright, she was bookish, and when she inherited her brother’s house she opened a school there.

I loved these words, spoken to her brother’s biographer:

If you are to understand my brother, Mr. Gilbert, you must stop seeing him as a painter and start seeing him as a storyteller. It was his greatest gift. He knew how to communicate, how to make people feel and see and believe …. It is no easy feat to invent a whole world, but Edward could do that. A setting, a narrative, characters who live and breathe – he was able to make the story come to life in somebody’s mind. Have you ever considered the logistics of that, Mr. Gilbert? The transfer of an idea? And, of course, a story is not a single idea; it is thousands of ideas, all working together in concert.

I suspect that catches the author’s own ethos.

Her finished work is less than perfect. Sometimes the writing is a little flat, and a little more editing would have been welcome. And – at the risk of being pedantic – I think it should be clock-maker, not clockmaker. But, that said, the book works.

When the events of the summer of 1862 were finally explained, that explanation was satisfying and believable; and there was a nice mixture of explanation and possibilities suggested but not pinned down in other plot strands.

And, for me, this was definitely the right book at the right time.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (2018)

I fell in love with Diane Setterfield’s first book, I was disappointed by her second; but when I saw the title of this third novel I thought that everything would be alright and as soon as I started to read I was quite certain that it would.

Imagine curling up in a big armchair by a blazing fire on a wild and stormy night and listening to an story-teller who will have you hanging on every world and completely wrapped up in the story from beginning to end.

Reading this book was rather like that.

Back in the latter years of the 19th century there were many inns along the banks of the Thames and each one was renowned for something different, from music to gambling, from brawling to storytelling …

It was the Swan Inn at Radcot that was known for its storytelling. It had been run for generations by the Ockwell family and it was a place where grand stories, with a good sprinkling of folklore and magic, were told, talked over, and re-told.


The grandest of all of the stories that would ever be told at the Swan Inn began on the night of the winter solstice. A badly injured stranger came through the door, carrying what all of those present believed to a large, bedraggled puppet.

They were wrong.

The man was carrying a lifeless young girl.

Rita Sunday, the local nurse and widwife, was called and she quickly established that the girl had no pulse and was not breathing and that there was nothing she could go for her. She was laid out in a cold outer room while Rita treated the man’s injuries. Later she went back to the girl, because she couldn’t understand how she had died, and she was astonished to small signs of life. The girl would live. Rita’s scientific interest is piqued, because she cannot comprehend how anyone who is so clearly dead can recover and live.

Nobody knows who the child is or where she came from, and she is unable to speak or tell to tell anyone anything about herself or her history.

She might be the child of a wealthy couple who had been kidnapped years earlier.

She might be the granddaughter of a gentleman farmer who knew that his estranged son had abandoned his wife and child.

She might be the sister of a poor young woman who had never given up hope that she would come back one day.

These are just some of the different characters whose stories – past and present – are wrapped around the story of the unknown child. The stories are rich and vividly told, the characters live and breathe, and it is so easy to be drawn in and to care deeply about what happens.

There are good and hard-working people who do their best to help their friends and neighbours; there are people whose hearts have broken but who know that they can do nothing but carry on; but there are also scoundrels and evil-doers who will take advantage of any situation for their own ends.

All life is here.

Rita and the man whose life she saved – a photographer named Henry Daunt – become close and they set out to solve the mystery at the heart of the story.

It is a story rich with the best kind of magic – magic rooted in nature and humanity

Stories are told of Quietly, one of a long line of a family of mute ferrymen, who travels between the worlds of the living and the dead. He will rescue river travellers in distress and will either deliver them safely to one side of the bank if it is not their time to pass, or to another destination if it is ….

The river is always there, flowing through the story and its lovely prose.

The story moves slowly and it rewards slow reading. The writing is gorgeous, there are so much many stories within the story to read and appreciate, and it is lovely spending time with all of the people who are part of those stories.

Every detail was right, every note rang true, and the world of this book felt utterly, utterly real.

Everything comes together beautifully and without a hint of contrivance.

It was a wrench to leave, and I can’t quite believe that I couldn’t go to the Swan Inn and listen to the descendants of the people I have been reading about telling tales of them, telling the tales of this book, telling tales of their own ….

I was spellbound from the first page to the last.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (2018)

When this book first caught my eye I picked it up and but it down again, because I thought that the story it had to tell might pull me down at a time when I needed to be lifted up; but a warm recommendation and the news that the author would be appearing at my local literary festival sent me back to the bookshop to buy a copy.

It was a wonderful investment!

A story of people who had more than their fair share of trial, but who fought back by realising what was important in life and living their lives accordingly!

Raynor Winn’s husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness; the couple lost a court case and incurred massive debts that would swallow up everything they owned, because the evidence that they were not liable arrived to late to be admissible in court; and that was why baliffs were hammering on the door to complete the process of taking their farm and livelihood away.

They hid under the stairs, because they didn’t know what else they could do.

‘I was under the stairs when I decided to walk. In that moment, I hadn’t carefully considered walking 630 miles with a rucksack on my back, I hadn’t thought about how I could afford to do it, or that I’d be wild camping for nearly one hundred nights, or what I’d do afterwards. I hadn’t told my partner of thirty-two years that he was coming with me.’

It was mad but it was the only thing they could do to stop being dragged down by the ruin of their past lives, to not undermine friendships by having to accept help and be grateful, and to avoid being a burden and a worry to their two grown-up children.

The idea was sparked by the book ‘500 Mile Walkies’ by Mark Wallington. I haven’t read it but the Man of the House has and he loved it.

Their only income would be £48 per week, they were homeless anyway, so why not walk the south-west coast path?!

The couple harboured their meagre resources to buy a new lightweight tent, a couple of sleeping bags and new rucksacks; and to get themselves to their starting point – Minehead in Somerset.

The walking was gruelling – especially for Moth, who had been advised that the best thing he could do for his condition (corticobasal degeneration or CBD) was to take life slowly and steadily – but as long as they kept moving the couple could forget that they were homeless and be happy that they were doing something together.

They had no money for official campsites, so wild camping was the order of the day, and it wasn’t easy to find a suitable spot each night, or to get up, pack up and be out of the way before anyone could object to them being there in the morning. Their limited budget meant that their usual diet was noodles, tins of tuna, and sweets. It was tough – particularly when they saw visitors using amenities and eating pasties and ice creams – but they endured and they became healthier.

The walk would not be a miracle sure for Moth, but it slowy became clear that it was having a positive effect in his health.

‘The path had given us certainty, a sense of security that came with knowing that tomorrow and the next day and the next we would pack up the tent, put one foot in front of the other and walk.’

Along the way he and his wife saw the best and the worst of human nature. Many people when they heard that they were homeless, or when they saw that they looked shabby and were eating the most basic rations, shunned them, called them names and made unwarranted assumptions. But others were supportive and encouraging, offering food and drink, and offering sensible and useful advice.

All of that gave the author a very real concern for the plight of the homeless.

She wrote beautifully about her emotions, her experiences, and about the path that she and her husband for walking. Sometimes when I read books about the south-west I’m looking out for the places close to home that I know well but that didn’t happen with this book, because I was so caught up in the moment. Reading was rather like hearing an account from a friend who is open and honest, who has a wonderful way with words, and who knows exactly what details to tell, which anecdotes to share to make a good story.

When I heard her speak her voice was exactly as it had been in her book.

There is much that I could share, but I’m just going to say that you should read the book and find out those things that way.

There are highs and low, there are moments to make you smile and moments to make you sigh, in this wonderful true story of homelessness, love and endurance.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (2018)

The concept – the whole book – is extraordinary,

A man wakes up in an unfamiliar body, with no idea who he is, where he is, what he has done or what he should be doing. He will learn that he has been sent to a house party to solve the mystery of the murder of a young woman – Evelyn Hardcastle – at exactly eleven o’clock that night.

He has eight days, he will experience eight different lives; and if he fails to solve the murder by the eighth day he will be sent back to the first day to will start all over again, remembering nothing of those eight days. That cycle will continue, time and time again, until he presents the correct solution.

I was drawn from the start by the voice and the confusion of the narrator. He woke in a forest early in the morning, he heard a shot and believed that there had been a murder that he might have prevented, and he really had no idea who he was, where he was, or how he might find his way out of the forest.

All he knows is a name – Anna.

A sinister figure – who he suspects is a murderer – directs him to the stately home set in the middle of the forest. He learns that he is a house guest there, that no one has any idea who Anna is, and his urgent request to investigate a murder in the woods are not taken seriously at all. All he can do is use his wits to work out who he is and what is going on; because even when he taken up to his room, even when he looks in the mirror, he has no idea who he is, what he has done or what he should be doing.

He begins to find out a little about who he is, he learns a certain amount by listening to what is going on around him; but when he wakes up the next morning he finds that he is someone else entirely.

Later that day he begins to learn about his position and his mission from the strange and mysterious figure who will be his guide – The Plague Doctor.

As the days pass by he will try to complete that mission, but he doesn’t know who he can trust, who might be involved in the crime, and which other lives he might come to occupy; and he has no idea at all why he has fallen into such a nightmarish situation.

He does knows that he must find Anna, and understand what connects the two of them.

I thought that this book might sink under the weight of its complexity but it didn’t; and I had a wonderful time caught in the moment with the narrator and his many hosts.

I loved the different perspectives, and though I didn’t make a significant effort to see if all of the pieces of this gloriously complex puzzle fitted together I can say the things that I spotted did; and that said puzzle and its the myriad overlapping and intertwining story-lines can only have been the work of a brilliantly inventive mind.

They wouldn’t have worked if the characterisation hadn’t been so very well done. All of the hosts were complex, nuanced characters; and to make them live and breathe while maintaining the character and the story of the man who was occupying their bodies and their lives was a magnificent balancing act.

The central story had the familiarity of a Golden Age mystery, but the puzzles were shiny and new. Why was the Hardcastle family throwing a party to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of their child ten years earlier, having invited all the people who were present that day back to the decrepit home they had abandoned years ago? What was the connection between the events that were playing out in the present and the events that had played out ten years earlier?

That could have made a very good book on its own. It would have worked, because although the story is strange and fantastical, the human drama and emotions feel utterly real and its world is so utterly real that it is easy to step into it and be caught up in the story.

The book is so full of unexpected twists and turns, and I had a wonderful time wandering through its pages, knowing that I had some idea of what was going on and waiting for revelations. Those revelations came tumbling out in the final chapters, some of them sticking and some of them being blown away by the wind that bought more answers.

Does the ending live up to what came before? Not quite – but nearly – and I think it was the right ending.

It left me with a head full of thought and ideas, it left we wondering if this strangely real and fantastical world was still spinning, and it made me want to go back to the beginning and make my way though its intricate paths, examining the evidence and admiring the structure and the decoration, all over again.


Everything Under by Daisy Johnson (2018)

In the beginning I was captivated by this book.

Even before I started to read I loved the sound of it, I loved the cover, I loved that the author shared her name with my grandmother ….

The first chapter spoke to my heart and my head, as a woman wrote of the joy and the pain of finding a mother who had been lost to her for many years, and of living with somebody she both knew and felt was a stranger, because the passage of time, things that had happened to her, and the coming of old age had left her mentally damaged.

It was profound, and it was richly, beautifully and distinctively written.

“I’d always understood that the past did not die just because we wanted it to. The past signed to us: clicks and cracks in the night, misspelled words, the jargon of adverts, the bodies that attracted us or did not, the sounds that reminded us of this or that. The past was not a thread trailing behind us but an anchor. That was why I looked for you all these years. Not for answers, condolences; not to ply you with guilt or set you up for a fall. But because – a long time ago – you were my mother and you left.”

I realised that I was reading one of those books that remind you that every single person you might pass in the street, however unremarkable they might look, however eccentric they may look, has a whole life story of their own, their own world view, and maybe a story to tell.

36396289The story that this book has to tell moves backwards and forwards in time, held together by a thread that follows the daughter as she searches for her mother and tries to understand what shaped her life and what made her leave her life  – and her daughter – behind. She meets people who had roles to play in her mother’s life story, and ultimately she learns some of her mother’s deepest and darkest secrets.

This  isn’t an easy story to explain, there is a great deal that is open to different interpretations, and what happens in the story isn’t as important as what the story has to say and how it says it.

It speaks of the complexity of the bond between mother and daughter; a bond that can be twisted out of shape by actions or circumstances, that allows roles to shift or even be reversed, but that can never be broken.

It speaks of the importance of language, of how it can be a joy, of how words can mean so much, of how they can make things clear but they can also make things opaque; and about how a child who shared an invented language with her mother might grow up to be a lexicographer.

There is a reversal, a reaction there, and this book is full of reversals and reactions.

There is folklore too, and a wealth of symbolism.

I loved the telling of the tale, the way pictures of lives were gradually built up from different pieces, and the way that some things came into the light while others remained in the shadows. The way that Daisy Johnson wrote, the way that she created this book, makes me want to describe her as an alchemist.

I wish I didn’t have to write anything negative, but I must.

One of the threads that runs through this book is the retelling of a very old story. It wasn’t wrong, but it was too literal and in the latter part of the book I couldn’t help thinking that it had compromised some of the characters and their stories and that a less literal retelling might have been much more effective.

Some of the ambiguity and opacity of this book is by design; but some of it is because rather too much had been crammed into it. And I think that is why I found so much to love but I couldn’t love the book as a whole in the same way.

I understand why this book has been lauded, and I might have found its failings easier to forgive if I had been a younger reader who hadn’t read many of the authors who must have infLuenced her.

That said, I will rush to read whatever Daisy Johnson write next; because when she finds right balance between language and ideas and story the results should be sublime

Force of Nature by Jane Harper (2018)

Jane Harper’s second novel, like her first, has a story that could have been ripped from the headlines.

Two teams – five men and five women – set off on a corporate team-building exercise in the Australian bush. The men arrived back at base on schedule but the women didn’t. Four of them emerged hours later, and they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – explain what had become of the fifth.

Time had passed since the end of the story told in that first book. The drought had broken, winter had come, and Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk is back at work in the city, investigating financial crime. He is drawn into this story because the missing woman was the whistle-blower in a fraud case that he and his partner, Carmen Cooper, were close to breaking.

She had left a message on his phone, but the signal had been so weak that he couldn’t make out what she was saying. When he tried to make contact he found out what had happened, the local police were grateful for the information that Aaron and Carmen were able to share with them, and open to them to make investigations of their own.

They didn’t know if the disappearance was linked to the fraud investigation, if there were other factors at play, or if it was purely chance that linked one woman to two potential crimes. And they didn’t know if she had chosen to disappear, if there had been foul play within the group of five, or if there had been somebody else out there.

The story has two strands. It follows the investigation; and it looks back to see what happened when the group of women set off into the bush. That works well. The tension mounts and slowly and steadily the picture comes together of what happened on the expedition – and what had been happening before – until it is clear what was wrong in the company and how and why the woman went missing.

Things that had happened at work, things that had happened in individual lives, and things that happened in the bush were all significant.

The plotting is very well done, but it is the depiction of the landscape, the drawing and the delineation of the characters and the sheer believability of it all that made the plot so effective. Each of the five women had their own story, and their own agenda, and I can only think that whoever put the group together care for any of them. That they fell out, got lost, and failed to agree on a plan of action was not a surprise; but the consequences were.

The plot, the vividly drawn scenes and the atmosphere were more than enough to hold me at the beginning of the story, but the development of Aaron’s own story and his relationship with Carmen drew me further in and made me think about future possibilities. This all happened quite naturally as the story touched on their lives during the investigation. I came to understand how Aaron had reached a particular point in his life, I was interested in Carmen and in her story, and I liked the way their relationship developed and left open interesting possibilities for the future.

However clever, however well plotted, a crime story may be, it won’t hold me without real human interest. This book has that in abundance.

The story kept moving, and I always felt that I was in the safe hands of an author who had wonderful control of her material. She held me in the moment, she paced her revelations perfectly, and every development felt plausible.

I couldn’t work out the solution and I was held to the very last page, and I appreciate the final act was a continuation and a resolution that flowed naturally from what had come before. An ‘aha moment’ but not a ‘grand finale’.

This book has confirmed that Jane Harper belongs on my very short list of ‘must read’ contemporary crime novelists.