It is rare that a book tackles what happens after a murderer has been convicted. I don’t mean so much what is life like in prison for the perpetrator but what happens to the relatives, both those of the victim and those connected by blood to the killer.
Only a Mother really examines the aftermath of a crime and the ripples that it causes years after the murder was committed. Craig Wright was convicted of the murder of an eighteen year old girl when he was twenty and has been in prison for seventeen years, his mother has been in her own prison for the same amount of time, convinced of her son’s innocence she is now ready to welcome him home. Home is Preston and the locals have long memories and are an unforgiving bunch. Erica, his mother, is shunned in her home town, she travels to the next town to go shopping to avoid the stares, the taunts and attracting unwanted attention.
Luke is a reporter on the local newspaper, he is mentoring a youngster and is updating the locals on Craig’s impending release. Luke is at that point in his life when he feels the best is behind him and he’s following some diet with ‘points’ that makes him hungry! He’s thrilled when his article attracts lots of angry and sad faces, he’s getting recognition he hasn’t had for years.
Which neatly leads onto one key winner as far as I’m concerned is that this book is clearly written in the here and now. Erica has been on a prisoner’s family forum for so many years she’s become a moderator. Luke neatly gives his views on the millennials from his lofty middle-age and cleverly mimics the change in language of headlines over the years (we move to someone being spared jail in the early noughties to the more recent screaming headline ‘criminal caged for assault!’)
This is a tense book as despite the crime being firmly in the past, it hasn’t stayed there. In part because there was another murder very close in time to the one Craig was convicted of but he wasn’t charged as he had a watertight alibi. It is this fact that has Erica clinging to his innocence and perhaps the same that means the locals feel he has got away with another murder. Either way from a reader’s perspective, it is hard to warm to Craig although I did find myself having more sympathy for Erica. The book raises that dilemma – what would you do? At what point do you turn your back on your own flesh and blood? That’s not to say Erica doesn’t have her doubts when the fully grown large man is back under her roof and then another girl goes missing!
I found myself drawn into the small group of characters, the intensity of everyone searching for the truth but unsure where to find it. Erica’s furtive posting on the forum seeking the reassurance from her friends there that she is doing the right thing and of course she reflects, as mothers are wont to do, on the past – right back to the birth and what she could have done differently.
This was an insightful book that shone a light on a relatively neglected aspect of crime, the hurt that doesn’t fade and the need of some people to believe that all is not quite as it seems.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Random House UK for giving me a copy of Only a Mother ahead of publication on 27 December 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author for such a thought-provoking read.