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by Alex Marwood
Sphere, June 2012
375 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0751547980

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Two eleven-year-old girls join the list of public hate figures when they are convicted of killing a five-year-old. Twenty five years later, both have rebuilt their lives. When they are thrown together by chance against the background of a series of sex killings in a run down seaside town, their carefully constructed new worlds begin to fall apart.

It is unlikely any new crime thriller this year will match the impact of Marwood's spectacular debut. This book grips on so many levels. The gritty descriptions of Whitmouth, a ghastly, run- down Channel town whose income is almost entirely derived from the alcoholic excesses of stag and hen parties, are matched by perceptive portraits of its of frequently less than lovely inhabitants. The town is wracked by fear as five young women are brutally attacked and murdered but happy to cash in on its new notoriety.

Flashbacks to the original killing of the little girl at the heart of the story not only indicate the state of mind of the main protagonists, one a neglected child of an inadequate family, the other a daughter of wealth, frozen out of family life by her mother's remarriage, but also point up the terrible shortages of country life for young people and the failings of the judicial system in its willingness to gain a conviction to satisfy popular demand rather than to identify the truth.

The British press, particularly the red tops, with their insatiable desire for sensation and minimal responsibility to those who feature in their pages, also takes a hammering as 'disclosures' build up an atmosphere of mass hysteria that leads to a terrible denouement.

But it is in the characters of the two women protagonists that Marwood triumphs. Both in their own ways have succeeded. One has become a moderately successful freelance reporter, with a typically middle class husband and young family. The other has settled for a quiet life as a night cleaning supervisor at Whitmouth's funfair and for an often difficult relationship with a handsome, but distant, fairground worker and her two pet dogs.

But neither is happy at being forced to live a lie and both are terrified their past will one day be revealed. Their constant state of near paranoia, with almost every action weighed against the risk of discovery, is brilliantly and sympathetically portrayed. To this volatile mixture Marwood adds a psychotic loner with serious self-image problems and a carefully observed cast of the good, the bad and the ugly, in other words people you could meet every day. Their attitudes and actions build the rising tension.

Brutal, grim, unsettling, emotionally draining, this book is all that. It is told in the present tense and is sharply observed, brilliantly written and although readers might not wish to acknowledge it, totally believable down to the most insignificant detail. It is also a tale of eagerly sought and partially achieved redemption. It's not an enjoyable read, but it is a compelling and thought- inducing piece of social commentary married to a gripping story.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, October 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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