Well this story was so much more than I expected, the war journalist not a token character to make a difference like I suspected, but someone who really felt like they’d seen and done all those terrifying things that it is easier to shy away from when it comes on the news.
When Kate Rafter returns to Hearne Bay following the death of her mother she is collected from the train station by her brother-in-law Paul. It is clear from the outset that there is trouble between Kate and her younger sister Sally and even when we are forced to confront Kate’s version of events, there are questions as to the real cause.
I’m often wary of crime books that strongly have mental illness at the very centre of their tale, not because I’m in any doubt of the awfulness of the condition but because I harbour slight suspicions as to the author’s motives – do they chose to portray someone this way to be politically correct? Or to capture readers who suffer similarly? Perhaps it has been chosen to excuse the actions of a character to make the unbelievable, less absurd? Not so in this book. Yes Kate is suffering from the effects of all that she has witnessed and she hears voices, sees hallucinations and takes strong tablets to help her sleep, but, and this is crucial for me to keep faith, she is also strong, she takes herself to task, unwilling to play the victim, she wants to return to work. So although we have a reason to doubt her visions, as I got to know more about her, all that she sees and hears has echoes in the war-zones she recently left, it all felt authentic.
What is equally interesting is that we follow Kate in a police station over the course of her detention for some unknown crime. She is guarded, trying not to provide ammunition to the police but we are as unsure of her motive as her crime. In between the interviews she narrates her tale, going back to the weeks leading up to her arrest. Because I knew some of this background and her need to present her most sane self to the police this also gave me a clue as to the strength of this woman, this is no flaky airhead playing at being a war-zone journalist, imagining she’s been to Syria, this is someone who has seen things we don’t even want to imagine.
Most of the book is narrated by Kate but we get to see another perspective through her alcoholic sister’s eyes. Sally always felt her mother preferred clever Kate who succeeded at everything and had moved away and left them, including her mother who had been shattered by the death of their brother when he was just a toddler. This is just one of the shadowy truths that litter this book. We know David died, but how and why isn’t instantly apparent, neither is the disappearance of Hannah, Sally’s daughter.
With many themes of a distressing nature this book could easily have turned into a complete misery fest but it is far too clever for that. Although there is plenty to despair about, some of it far too distressing to deeply contemplate, there is also a plot with a definite ending which lifts this head and shoulders above the competition. I loved the way that the themes reappear throughout the story and loop back to re-examine the truths based upon updated information whilst never labouring the point.
In short, this book was so good, not always an easy read but an informative one, and yet the author never preaches, she is telling a story which has everything you’d expect from a good mystery, in fact there are several mysteries all of which are revealed with an understated style which will make you gasp.
Thank you to Penguin who allowed me to read a copy prior to the publication date of tomorrow. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.