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Geniver Loxley and her husband, Art are contemplating yet another round of IVF. They had a child once but Beth was stillborn and all attempts to have more children have failed. Life for Gen has become routine. She teaches a creative writing class but her own creativity died along with Beth and Gen has been grieving for her daughter ever since. She loves her husband, who has been steadily building a successful business over the fourteen years of their marriage and providing them with a comfortable life. He seems to have moved on from their loss, but Gen recognises that though she loves her husband, their marriage, like her life, is in a bit of a rut.
One day everything changes when Gen answers a knock at the door and comes face to face with a total stranger who tells her that her child wasn't born dead eight years ago as she believed but had been very much alive. Worse follows that bombshell, however, when the stranger tells her that Gen's husband had known all about it.
This novel was the June read for my book group and is another of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads. I'd never come across the author before and though she has written several books for children and young adults, this is her first attempt at writing fiction for grown ups.
Having read the back cover blurb I was keen to get reading but though the premise of the book was intriguing, I actually found it quite hard to get into the story. This was largely down to the character of Gen who I didn't immediately warm to at all. I know that having a stillborn child must be absolutely traumatic and also that IVF is no picnic but from the very first chapter there was an air of the martyr about Gen. She was constantly telling the reader that she loves her husband yet underneath one gets the impression that she's having a bit of a whinge. Eight years is a long time to grieve and I really felt that Gen had made no attempt to get over the past and get on with life.
Until the events of eight years ago she'd enjoyed moderate success as an author but now suffers from writer's block and teaches a couple of creative writing classes. Again, I couldn't help feeling that if she'd got off her backside and got herself a proper job she might have found it easier to pick up the threads of her life, especially as this extended period of grieving seems to have affected all her relationships with friends and family and though I can appreciate how traumatic such a loss would be, I couldn't help feeling exasperated with the woman. If she wasn't bemoaning the fact that she'd lost her baby, she was moping around because her friends had children and she didn't. Not only that, but the woman seemed to have turned herself into a human doormat. If Art snaps at her, she immediately makes excuses for him and yet despite this seeming loyalty to her husband, she isn't much of a support to him at all.
Art has built up a successful finance business with a friend and it's forging ahead with not only media interest but from the government also. I had some sympathy for Art who seems to have buried himself in his work but with a wife like that at home, who could blame him? That being said, Art wasn't particularly likeable either and more than once the thought crossed my mind that here was a couple with very little in common.
Lucy, the stranger with the earth-shattering news, was the sister of the nurse from the clinic where Gen gave birth. The nurse had recently died but on her deathbed had confessed her involvement in the deception. When Gen tells Art about the visit and what has been said, he's angry and also vehemently denies everything. Gen being the dutiful wife, is almost on the verge of dropping the matter and dismissing Lucy as just some crank when she reads in the paper that the Lucy has been killed in a hit and run accident. From that moment on evidence to support Lucy's claim begins to mount until it seems to Gen that she's surrounded by family and friends all of whom seem to have something to hide and she no longer knows who to trust.
Enter Lorcan, one-time friend of Art, who everyone regards as a bit of a loose cannon. He was part of Art's company in the early days and left under a cloud, yet he seems to be the only person who takes Gen's concerns seriously, even going so far as to help her with her investigation.
Every piece of evidence Gen turns up leads her deeper and deeper into the mystery with Art still denying any involvement and suggesting that Gen needs some counselling to help her move on with her life.
Despite not finding any of the main characters particularly engaging, for the first half of the book I was totally gripped by this mystery. Gen is floundering in a web of secrets and lies and fears for her sanity and, just like Gen, I couldn't decide who to trust. As her investigation progresses, however, the plot began to unravel somewhat as it became more and more implausible but with so many potential suspects I felt compelled to keep on reading just to find out who the culprit might be. By this time it seemed as though everyone that Gen came into contact with was complicit in some way and the body count was rising at an alarming rate.
Interspersed between Gen's narrative are excerpts from a child's journal but it isn't until quite late in the book that this writer's identity is revealed or even how this links into the main story.
Although the book has a few flaws and a good deal too many red herrings for my liking, it was a strong enough story to keep me reading to the bitter end and with plenty of twists and turns to the plot to keep me guessing for most of the book. There's also a rather nasty final twist to this tale.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
This is one of the Richard & Judy Summer reads and is available from W H Smith for £3.99 or from Amazon for a few pence less. It's also available in Kindle and epub formats for around the same price.