Transworld Digital| 17 Jun. 2021| 433 pages| e-book Review copy| 2.5* rounded up to 3*
What happens to those girls who go missing? What happens to the Zoe Nolans of the world?’
In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.
She was never seen again.
Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011. But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.
Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.
Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning
True Crime Story is Joseph Knox’s fourth novel, his first standalone. Previously I’ve read two of his Detective Aidan Waits novels, The Smiling Man and The Sleepwalker, which I loved – they’re both brilliant, dark and violent urban noir novels. They’re also amongst the most complicated books that I’ve ever read. So my expectations for True Crime Story were very high, but, I’m sorry to say, I was disappointed. In fact I almost abandoned it several times, until about the 50% mark when I realised that I had to read on because I wanted to know what had happened to Zoe.
Despite the title this is not a nonfiction true crime story, nor a mix of fact and fiction, it is a novel and it includes the author, Joseph Knox, as one of its characters. It has a story within the story – made up of emails to and from Knox and another writer (fictional) Evelyn Mitchell. Evelyn is writing a book about the disappearance of a student at Manchester University, Zoe Nolan. Her book is a collection of the interviews she carried out with Zoe’s family and friends seven years after Zoe’s disappearance, which she sends to Joseph Knox as she collates them, and asks for his advice.
Initially I found this rather confusing but I gradually worked out their relationships and characters, although it is repetitive and reads as a long session of interviews about the same events as seen through each character’s perspective. For me, this makes it fragmentary and in parts disjointed, slows down the action, and lessens the tension and suspense even as the facts about the mystery emerge, including what happens to Evelyn herself.
However, many other readers love this book, so I am in the minority. It has had rave reviews and was short listed for this year’s Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, an award that celebrates excellence, originality, and the very best in crime fiction from UK and Irish authors. You may enjoy it more than I did!
My thanks to the publishers Transworld Digital for a review copy via NetGalley.