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by Cath Staincliffe
C & R Crime, April 2013
272 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 1780335679

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Although Cath Staincliffe's latest book revolves around a criminal action, this could hardly be called a crime story. You could see social worker Carmel Baxter as an unlikely private detective, or you could just treat her as a mother doing her best to deal with a dreadful scenario in which her younger daughter is accused of running down and killing a little girl while drink-driving.

The story is simple. Naomi and her boyfriend celebrate at a family barbecue. Driving home, they are involved in a fatal accident in which a nine-year-old girl is killed, Naomi is left fighting for life, and boyfriend Alex badly injured. The lives of three families have been torn apart. Naomi has no clear memory of the crash and Carmel is forced to tell her she faces a long prison sentence if her own sister's claim that Naomi was drinking heavily is proved.

Naomi is haunted and remorseful, failing to cope and on the verge of suicide, but her mother refuses to accept the apparent facts and launches a solo quest to discover the truth of what really happened on a sunny Sunday afternoon when her family were plunged into a nightmare which could destroy them in just a matter of seconds.

Staincliffe, author of the Blue Murder TV series and the spin-off books from the popular Scott & Bailey police procedural, relies solely on mother and daughter to tell the tale. Pitched in the present tense it has a sense of believability and real urgency as Naomi struggles to come to terms with what she is supposed to have done and Carmel battles on, keeping faith with her daughter. Few writers can portray so well the strength and courage of an unashamedly middle class mum in a situation where many would buckle and the flashbacks to her own past merely highlight her present course while Naomi's doubts and failings are sharply portrayed and treated with real compassion.

It is the domestic details that make this book so realistic the ex-punk rocker, turned respectable businessman father, solid and supportive; the ongoing clash between Naomi and her older and apparently successful and organised sister. This is a normal family facing an abnormal situation.

The ending is hardly a surprise, but that is not the point. We are not talking here about some high flying detective solving an amazing crime, but an ordinary woman, the lynchpin of an ordinary family, struggling to do her best for her child. It's a brilliantly written, compelling tale that will drag you in to a situation which could all too easily affect any of us.

Courage, compassion, attention to detail and a very real sense of family are the key words to describe this fine book. Whatever your taste in crime fiction, read this and be refreshed by Staincliffe's faith in the strength of family.

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, April 2013

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