When Alison Grace was born she was named Esme Grace but after a terrible event befell her whilst she was still in her mid-teens she changed her name, choosing Alison because she went to school with four girls named Alison, reason enough to believe the name would grant her the anonymity she needed. Thirteen years later she has learnt to play her cards close to her chest and lives and bland life bereft of anyone who knows what happened in her past. All that changes when she meets Paul, a man who doesn’t seem interested in her past, a man who doesn’t need to understand her. All goes swimmingly until one day an invitation arrives for a wedding, the only problem is being held at the very place where Alison’s story begins and he is determined that she accompanies him. Unable to relinquish Paul, Alison decides to front it out but soon she regrets her decision.
This book deals with memories, a subject that I find enormously intriguing, what we remember and how it is remembered could be determined by the amount of trauma or of course the depth of understanding we have at the time as well as the inevitable re-writing of events to fit the narrative that makes most sense at the time. The memories that Esme/Alison is trying to grasp are partially obscured due to her age and partially, you have to surmise, because she hasn’t wanted to remember, better perhaps to have a half-formed narrative than one that causes you to confront some painful truths?
The Crooked House is just that, an odd looking house set in a small community, a setting which breeds secrets, half-truths and rumours, and best of all, a distrust of anyone from ‘outside.’ Has this community really been able to mask the truth for so many years not just about Alison but the other tragedies that surfaced around the same time. Who are the unseen watchers, who wants the stories supressed? As we meet the different characters they all have part of the tale to tell, nothing is quite straightforward and yet all these different strands build a picture of what really happened in the Crooked House over time.
This is a complex novel, the narrative swirls around and there are many characters to keep track of but this adds to the feeling of dread of what Alison is going to find out, what she should be sharing and what she should be keeping a secret. It is a compelling tale, I longed to find out the truth yet at the same time so absorbed was I in this dark tale that I dreaded what was going to emerge.
Christobel Kent has created a story that is positively swirling with menace and intrigue with a protagonist who simply doesn’t know who or what to believe, the clever slicing of the different character’s stories raising this tale well above the generic small town mystery.
I am grateful to the publishers Little Brown Group UK who allowed me to read this book in return for my review. The Crooked House will be published on 8 January 2015.