This is an unusual book, in that the story is told backwards. Starting with a dramatic explosion in 2003 in which one person dies, the story is peeled back to when the three main characters are friends at nursery school, before revealing the final denouement.
It's a risky strategy, as one has to invest totally in the characters in order to care enough to hear their story. There is Anna, a lonely girl whose real family has always been her two best friends. Lee is the friend turned lover, who she eventually marries almost by default. Lee struggles with the aftermath of an abusive father and absentee mother, and is constantly anxious that he might end up falling into the same bad habits.
Finally, there is Mike, the quiet one, who has always held a torch for Anna but has been too shy to say so. He’s very protective of her, so when a mutual friend suggests that Lee could be abusing her, he knows he has to act in some way.
This is a very skilfully written book, with the author making sure we care about each character before revealing their secrets. Lee’s traumatic childhood, his complicated relationship with his father, and Anna’s need for love and acceptance is brilliantly portrayed.
And Mike, who could so easily be a doormat, proves his worth. Whilst we discover how the characters come to be as they are, we are also kept on tenterhooks, waiting for the identity of the body brought out of the wreckage to be revealed.
A far more edgy read than her previous novels, touching on domestic violence and how the victim reacts to it. One really feels for Anna, but cannot see how she can escape from Lee’s increasingly controlling behaviour. A happy ending is not always guaranteed in cases like this and the author knows it. The issue is well-researched and comes across convincingly. It is sometimes difficult to read, but definitely worth it.
After reading three of Katharine E Smith’s novels, I know I’m in safe hands with an author who knows how to balance a story, create realistic worlds and dialogue and above all, keep the reader guessing. This does not disappoint on any level.