The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister

A brilliant psychological thriller

The Evidence Against You

Penguin Michael Joseph|18 April 2019|432 pages|Review copy|5*

I was delighted to receive a review copy of  The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister from the publishers.  And as soon as I began reading it I knew I was going to love it and I just didn’t want to stop reading until I’d finished it. It’s the third book I’ve read by her (her earlier books I’ve read are Everything But the Truth and No Further Questions). 

Gabe (Gabriel) English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. Izzy, his daughter, now 36, is dreading his release. Following the death of her mother she had lived with her maternal grandparents until she married Nick, a police analyst and had carried on running her mother’s restaurant on the Isle of Wight.

Her childhood had been a happy one until the murder. The judge said it was an open and shut case and he had sentenced Gabe to life imprisonment. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Izzy had thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

This is a brilliant book that had me guessing all the way through. I was hoping for Izzy’s sake that Gabe was telling the truth even though the facts didn’t seem to back him up. Prison had changed him – he is angry, bitter and resentful – and Izzy is full of doubts about him and about her parents’ relationship. She questions her memories – what had seemed straight forward and certain to her before, now appears in a different light. But Paul, her father’s friend believes him, telling Izzy that some of the evidence was circumstantial, so she gives him the chance to explain, especially when Paul tells her that there was a witness who could have given Gabe an alibi if the police had found him.

It’s a character-driven story of conflict, of broken lives, of the destruction of families, and of devastating trauma as secrets from the past come to the surface; a story full of twists and turns that left me hoping so much that Gabe was innocent and wondering if he hadn’t killed Alexandra who had and why.

As well as the mystery it’s also about the catastrophic effects of being accused of a crime and being imprisoned long enough to become institutionalised, particularly on release from prison. Gabe finds simple things like shopping difficult and as well as being angry and bitter he is anxious and fearful, struggling with making decisions without the rules and discipline of being in prison.

It’s a tense, tightly plotted book and completely compelling reading.  The ending did take me by surprise, although looking back I can see that it was lightly foreshadowed and I just hadn’t noticed. It is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. 

My thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK Michael Joseph for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn

The Lost Letter From Morocco

Avon Books UK|7 March 2019|Print length 416 pages|e-book Review copy|2*

Blurb:

Morocco, 1984. High in the Atlas Mountains, Hanane’s love for Irishman Gus is forbidden. Forced to flee her home with the man she loves, Hanane is certain she’s running towards her destiny. But she has made a decision that will haunt her family for years to come.

London, 2009. When Addy discovers a mysterious letter in her late father’s belongings, she journeys to Morocco in search of answers. But instead, she finds secrets – and is quickly pulled into a world that she doesn’t understand.

And when history starts to repeat itself, it seems her journey might just change the person she is forever…

My thoughts:

Reading the blurb I thought The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn sounded an interesting book set in a country I know very little about. The setting in Morocco is well described, although in places it comes across as more of a travel and cultural guide than a novel and I liked that much more than the rest of the book. So, I’m sad to say that this book did not live up to my expectations and it was a disappointment.

Set in two time frames the narrative moves between Addy’s and Haldane’s stories. In 2009 Addy is recovering from cancer and conscious of how short life can be she has decided to sell her flat, leave Nigel, her cheating boyfriend, and her job in a photography shop to work on a travel book. Her father had recently died and in his belongings she finds an unfinished letter addressed to her from him, together with several photos of Morocco, including a photo of him with an arm around a young woman. On the back of the photo her father had written ‘Zitoune waterfalls, Morocco, August 1984 – with Hanane.‘ Haldane is clearly pregnant. Seeing her father’s photos of Morocco she decides that is the place to go to try to find out what had happened to Haldane and at the same time to work on her travel book.

I was keen to find out what Addy would discover. However, what followed is a rambling and repetitive story about Addy and Omar, a tour guide, and their relationship. It was slowed down with too much detail and I began to lose interest and at several points I almost abandoned the book. Omar is a an annoying character, bossy and possessive with Addy, who for a 40 year old woman is incredibly naive, even given that she is recovering from cancer and from her broken relationship with Nigel. I was much more interested in Gus and Haldane’s story and was frustrated by having to wade through the details of Addy’s and Omar’s relationship as she discovered what had happened in 1984. The twist at the end made me even more disappointed that the story had not focused on Haldane’s story.

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Family Secret by Tracy Buchanan

The Family Secret

Avon Books UK|10 January 2019|Print length 400 pages|e-book Review copy|3*

The Family Secret by Tracy Buchanan is the first of her books that I’ve read. Although I liked it, I didn’t love it, but maybe that’s because it is romantic fiction, a genre that I don’t read very often.

It’s an emotional family drama set in two timelines. The narrative switches between the two periods – one in 2009 written in the third person present tense and the other in 1989 – 1996 in the first person past tense, so the timelines are easily distinguishable. The two storylines eventually merge. However, it begins with a prologue in which an unnamed woman drowns in a frozen lake, watched by an unnamed man. As I read on I was wondering who they were and what had led up to that scene and how it fitted into the main part of the book.

There are plenty of secrets and several twists in the story. In 2009, Amber Caulfield comes across a young girl, stumbling along the beach at Winterton Chine on the south coast of England, not wearing a coat or shoes and unable to remember who she is, or how she got there. Amber who has her own problems decides to help her remember who she is and to reunite her with her family.

The second storyline, beginning in 1989 is full of secrets too. Gwyneth is a wildlife documentary filmmaker who gets lost as she’s driving in the Scottish Highlands. She comes across a lodge overlooking a loch. It’s Christmas Eve, freezing cold and snowing, so she decides to ask for help, but seeing a ptarmigan gets out her camera to film the bird and steps onto the frozen loch, the ice cracks and she falls into the water. Fortunately she is rescued by Dylan McClusky and taken in by his family. She is made welcome but it soon becomes apparent that this is a dysfunctional family with a number of problems and secrets. Gwyneth too has a troubled background and a big secret that she keeps well hidden.

 It’s a novel about love, loss and guilt, but it’s a bit too predictable for my liking, with rather too many coincidences that weren’t very convincing. But it’s an easy and enjoyable book to read and it kept my interest to the endI liked the vivid descriptions of the landscape and wildlife both in the Scottish Highlands and in Iceland in the depths of winter, bringing the settings to life.

My thanks to the publishers, Avon Books UK for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Frank Business by Olivia Glazebrook

The Frank Business

John Murray Press|7 March 2019 |288 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

I enjoyed The Frank Business by Olivia Glazebook very much. It’s about a rather dysfunctional family in crisis and it begins dramatically:

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I Found You

Arrow Books|2016|438 pages|Library book |4*

After I’d enjoyed reading Watching You by Lisa Jewell so much I looked for more of her books to read and borrowed I Found You  from my local library.

Blurb:

Surrey: Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one.

East Yorkshire: Alice Lake finds a man on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, no idea what he is doing there. Against her better judgement she invites him in to her home.

But who is he, and how can she trust a man who has lost his memory?

My thoughts:

I Found You plunged me straight away into the mystery of the identity of the man Alice Lake found sitting on the beach at Ridinghouse Bay (a fictional seaside resort) in the pouring rain. He can’t remember who he is, or how or why he is sitting there. And, of course, I thought he must be Lily Monrose’s husband, Carl who has gone missing. These two strands of the story are written in the present tense. They alternate with another strand written in the past tense about events that took place 22 years earlier when a family of four, teenagers Kirsty and Gray, with their parents, are spending their summer holiday in Rabbit Cottage, a former coastguard’s cottage. That holiday changed all their lives.

One of the things I liked about this novel is its strong sense of place. Ridinghouse Bay is a small seaside town with the usual attractions for holidaymakers –  a pub, a seafood restaurant, cafe, a beach bar and a fairground . And there is a map showing all the locations around the Bay.

Alice’s cottage is tiny, an old coastguard’s cottage built over three hundred years ago.

Beyond her window, between Victorian street lights, a string of sun-faded bunting swings back and forth in the boisterous April wind. To the left there is a slipway where small fishing boats form a colourful spine down to a concrete jetty and where the great dreadful froth of the North Sea hits the rocky shoreline. And beyond that the sea. Black and infinite. (page 2)

Alice is a bit eccentric, a generous and kind-hearted woman, living on her own with her four children and three dogs. The cottage is too small for her family, cramped, with low ceilings that slope and bulge, but she invites the man in to stay in the studio/shed in her back yard which is where she makes art from old maps to sell on the internet. The children decide to call him ‘Frank’ and she tries to help him remember what had happened to him. Then Frank begins to have flashbacks and thinks he may have killed someone.

Lily, meanwhile is trying to find Carl. They had met and married in the Ukraine and although she has spoken to his mother on the phone she has never met her. The police tell her his passport is a fake and his mother isn’t answering her phone, but she finds her address and goes to see her. But the house is empty.

I read this quickly, it’s very readable. The characters are realistically drawn with depth – and the puzzle about Frank’s identity kept me guessing. It’s not as clear-cut as it first appeared and I kept changing my mind as I read on. It certainly isn’t the ‘cosy’ mystery, that the opening pages seem to indicate, but it is a story that me gripped as the tension rose to a dramatic and violent climax.

I’ll certainly be looking out for more of Lisa Jewell’s books to read.

There will be a new Lisa Jewell novel – The Family Upstairs which is out on 25 July. Her earlier books are:

Ralph’s Party (1999)
Thirtynothing (2000)
One-hit Wonder (2001)
A Friend of the Family (2003)
Vince and Joy (2005)
31 Dream Street (2007)
The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
After the Party (2010)
The Making of Us (2011)
Before I Met You (2012)
The House We Grew Up In (2012)
The Third Wife (2012)
The Girls (2015)
aka The Girls in the Garden
I Found You (2016)
Then She Was Gone (2017)
Watching You (2018)

The Wych Elm by Tana French

The Wych Elm

Penguin UK Viking|21 February 2019 |517 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

Excellent Intentions

Poisoned Pen Press|2 October 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|2.5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1938 by Faber and Faber. It’s the second book by Richard  Hull that I’ve read. However, I didn’t think Excellent Intentions was as enjoyable as the first one, The Murder of My Aunt.

Henry Cargate, of Scotney End Hall, died on a train for London, from a heart attack brought on when he inhaled snuff laced with potassium cyanide. He was an unpleasant man, the most disliked person in the village of Scotney End and several people were suspected of murdering him. One of those suspects (who is not named until near the end of the book) was arrested and is on trial for his murder. The potassium cyanide crystals, mixed into Cargate’s snuff had been bought to destroy a wasps’ nest. So, Inspector Fenby’s investigation concentrates on the limited opportunities available for the murderer to add the poison to Cargate’s snuffbox, which he kept in his study.

The book begins as the counsel for the prosecution makes his opening speech and makes his case for the judge and jury. It then follows the trial through its various stages to the verdict and subsequent appeal.

My problem with this book is that it is so very factual and focused on the times that no one was in Cargate’s study, concentrating on four people that Fenby suspected had an opportunity to tamper with the snuff, and on the position of the bottle of potassium cyanide – whether it was on the desk or on the window sill. It’s clever, but it’s also repetitive and very long-winded. But, I liked the twist in the conclusion.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

This is qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge and for the Calendar of Crime Challenge for September in the category of the author’s birth month.