Saturday 17 February 2018

In Richmond Park where the bodies keep turning up

Fiction: The Life I Left Behind, Colette McBeth, Headline Review, tpbk, pages, €16.99

Author Colette McBeth
Author Colette McBeth
The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

Brian Brennan

If Joyce Carol Oates and Ian Rankin were to sit down together on a bench in Richmond Park in London to plot a collaborative novel, the outcome could turn out rather like The Life I Left Behind.

That pair of prolific storytellers, with 60-plus novels between them - and their respective expertise on heroine survivors and dogged detectives - would likely be pleased with the result.

Yet this is just the second novel from British writer Colette McBeth, a former newspaper and TV reporter.

Like her first, the bestselling Precious Thing, it's a stunner.

Why Richmond Park?

Because that's where the bodies are turning up.

First Melody Pieterson is found, not quite dead, but in a coma from which she emerges unable to remember who attacked her or why. Her friend and neighbour, David Alden, is tried and convicted. The trauma of it all turns Melody into a paranoid recluse, unable to trust friends, unable to leave the soulless house she shares with her soon-to-be husband Sam.

When alone, she hears strange sounds in the night, senses an intrusive presence both outside and within the house.

Her tortured imagination is playing tricks. Or is it?

Six years later, and immediately after David Alden has been released from prison, Eve Alden is murdered in identical circumstances. Both women have been found clutching similar delicate gold chains.

Eve is dead, and yet remains aware. "You might think it's a privilege to watch life carry on when you are gone," she tells us. "Trust me, it is penance. And one, I noticed, not everyone had to suffer. Some people who died after me passed straight through without the briefest look back . . ."

This device suggests a whiff of The Lovely Bones and perhaps a touch of Gone Girl. Sort of.

But Colette McBeth's writing and plotting seem quite unique and in a league of their own. What might have been a routine whodunnit evolves into a challenging psychological thriller as a fresh police investigation forces Melody to face the real world and seek out the truth.

The truth, it turns out, is that all her friends have been living their own particular lies. As she finds out more about Eve Elliott's one-woman investigation of David Alden, Melody comes to realise that little or nothing is as she imagined in her happy existence before the attack.

There is a clear undercurrent to it all which has to do with women.

Aspiring women in a world run by men. There is Melody, broken but fighting for her sanity and her identity. Eve, a former investigative journalist, whose TV programme has been dropped, is trying to rebuild her self confidence by investigating what she believes is a miscarriage of justice. And detective inspector Victoria Rutter, who suspects she has been an unwitting participant in that miscarriage of justice, hopes to redeem herself by exposing sloppy police work while being sniped at by a boozy superior officer.

The story is effectively narrated by these three vividly drawn female characters.

There are many twists of plot on the way to a nail-biting denouement.

At around the halfway mark, putting together the clues and signals carefully placed by McBeth, you will realise who the killer must be.

But you'll be wrong.

Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

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