Hannah Brown is perfectly content plodding along with her day to day life, living alone with her cat, and working in a job she enjoys at the local museum. When she begins to have visions of her best friend, Ellen, who died many years ago, Hannah begins to worry about her state of mind and worries that she is experiencing a breakdown as she has done once before. Hannah tries to put the missing pieces of her past together to try to make sense of what she is experiencing, and we join her on her journey to find out what really happened to her friend, Ellen Brecht.
The protagonist of this novel is Hannah Brown, and the story is recalled in first person, which helps us to relate to the main character and see things from her perspective. From early on in the novel, we see Hannah growing up, forming friendships with Jago, and Ellen, the two other important characters from her childhood. For the remainder of the book, the chapters alternate between past and present, so we get to know Hannah very well throughout the novel. In some ways, Hannah is a straightforward character, she is quite weak in my opinion, being vulnerable and haunted by the past. The author seems to be trying to present Hannah in this way, with her doubting her own sanity because of the flashbacks and visions she is experiencing, and I generally found the character a bit dull to be honest. Apart from working in a museum and living with her cat, her adult character wasn't really developed enough to feel much empathy or warmth towards her, so we're not really told much about what she likes to do outside of work, and her adult friendships with her colleagues seem quite superficial. However, this didn't detract from my interest in the book, because I was keen to unravel the history between the three main characters, and work out how they all ended up where they are now.
Some of the other characters in the book are much more memorable, for example Ellen is a very lively and daring young girl, and Jago is a determined and hardworking young man. Ellen's father, who plays quite an important role in their childhood years, is a very strong character, being powerful, controlling, and manipulative. There are many layers to his character, and unlike the others, his character continues to develop and unravel throughout the book, with devastating consequences. In truth, none of the characters are particularly likeable, as they all use each other for their own selfish gains, but the reader is still left wanting to know the missing pieces to this story.
There is definitely an air of mystery surrounding the book, in fact if I had to pick a genre to pigeon-hole it, I'd say it falls under mystery or suspense. It's not quite a full on crime thriller, nor is it wishy washy chick-lit, but it's a well-constructed mystery set in the serene countryside of Cornwall, and the description of the setting and characters where everyone knows everyone else's business reminds me of a Midsomer Murders type village. The pace of the book is just about right, because although it's set in sleepy rural life, there is enough happening at each stage to make the reader want to continue reading.
The novel is constructed in such a way that we are constantly switching between past and present, and this held my attention because just as I wanted to know what was happening in one thread of the story, it switched to the other time setting. This meant I was, in effect, following two stories at once, but at no point did this become confusing, as it was clear what was in the past and present. Towards the end of the book, everything ties together nicely, so you have a clear resolution of what happened in the past, and what is happening in the present. This was pleasing because at one stage I wasn't sure whether this was going to happen, or if there would be ties left untied, which really annoys me when I've invested a lot of time reading a book. It's a refreshing book because it doesn't have the typical happy ending you come to expect, especially where matters of the heart are concerned, but we are in no doubt about that from the beginning, because we already know the final outcome. The book is more about telling the story from beginning to end, and keeping you guessing throughout.
==Would I recommend?==
I am certainly a fan of Louise Douglas, and have read all four of her books, three of which were excellent, with one being disappointing. The one I was disappointed by was a similar mystery style, so I did debate whether to read this one or not, but I'm glad I did. It's engaging, keeps you guessing, and you get sucked into wanting to know what happens next. The author is excellent at imagery and descriptive writing, and this book is no different in that respect. You feel like you can put yourself in the setting and create a realistic image of what's going on in the book. There was a short spell in the middle of the book where I wanted the pace to pick up a little, as it seemed to be dragging the story out a bit, but the second part of the book definitely picks up.
The only other criticism I would make is that I find the author tends to follow a similar style in each book, in that it's always switching between past and present, and even the characters are quite similar with the protagonist of each of her four books being a vulnerable troubled female. Some of the finer details also get a little repetitive, with characters having similar jobs and hobbies, and although I know they say to write about what you know, sometimes it feels as if the author is following the same formula each time. However, treating this book as an individual piece of writing, the formula works, so I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good bit of mystery and suspense, with a surprising ending.
(Review may also appear on Ciao under the username Gingerkitty)
One ordinary morning at work Hannah Brown glimpses a young woman with dark hair, wearing a green coat spattered with rain. The woman is identical to her childhood best friend, Ellen Brecht. But Hannah believes Ellen is dead. Can it really be her? For a moment it is as though the past twenty years have never happened; life becomes dazzling and exciting again and Hannah remember how it felt to be young and strong, and without regret. Then she thinks about what happened to Ellen and to her all those years ago and she's filled with a terrible fear. Because the seemingly idyllic Cornish childhood she and Ellen shared ended in obsession and betrayal. Has Ellen returned to forgive her, or to punish her?
I am a big Louise Douglas fan, and have read every book she has had published so far. Her 2011 release, The Secrets Between Us, was a fantastic read, and has rightfully been chosen as one of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads of 2012. That's great news because it's a treat of a read, and I hope it'll open up Douglas to a wider readership because although her books are probably best defined as women's fiction, they are somehow also psychological thrillers in a way too. I think the dark covers hint best at what is inside her books, and I was very pleased to receive a review copy of her latest release In Her Shadow, and very much hoped to enjoy it as much as her previous novels!
Hannah Brown is a normal woman who is trying to get by in life, and put her troubled past behind her. But when she is at work and spots her old best friend Ellen Brecht in the corner of her eye, it starts Hannah on another downward spiral, and makes her panic. The reason for this is that Ellen died years ago, but Hannah knows what she saw. Hannah decides she has to try and find out whether it really is Ellen that is following her, and embarks on the task of finding out more about her friend that she left behind so many years ago. What really went on between Hannah and Ellen all those years ago that shattered not only their friendship, but two families as well? Why is Hannah destined to forever live in Ellen's shadow?
I will confess straight away that this book isn't anywhere near as good as 'The Secrets Between Us', and for me there is one reason for this - the characters. I found both Ellen and Hannah to be fairly unlikeable people, I couldn't empathise with either of them despite what happened to them in the book, and if I don't get on with the characters, it's always a job to give a book a great rating, despite how brilliant other aspects of it may be. Ellen is so self-centred that you just want to tell Hannah to walk away, she's a user and not a very nice human being at all. I felt slightly sorry for her because of her troubled relationship with her father, but for the most part, she wasn't likeable and I didn't care much for her at all. Hannah on the other hand needed to grow a back bone, she couldn't just tell Ellen "no", instead choosing to be destructive in sly ways, and I didn't like that at all. As an adult she isn't much better, doing what she thinks is best despite how it would affect others around her.
The best part of the book for me was the way it alternated between the present day story of Hannah trying to find out about the Ellen who is chasing her around, and the past tale of Hannah and Ellen as children, and how things came to be on such a decline between them. I was really intrigued by their childhood tale, with Ellen being ruled with her father's strict upbringing rules, a very awful man that you cannot help but hate. However, it was so well written that you couldn't see the twists and turns coming, and by the end when all is revealed, I was truly stunned because I didn't forsee anything like that at all, and I loved that Douglas was able to hide that from her readers. She describes the setting, the events so well that you're there in the book with Hannah, feeling her emotions along with her, even when you dislike her and don't want to feel any empathy for her at all!
I found in parts it did drag a little bit, and I had to force myself to carry on for a while. Some of the descriptive passages, particularly those with Hannah and Ellen's childhood tale were quite long-winded and I felt I had to really press on through. However, the book seemed to really pick up around halfway through and I read on to the end as I wanted to find out who was chasing Hannah and why she had been living with such a guilt over Ellen. Things are really slowly revealed to the readers, and it keeps your attention in that respect, as you're always wondering what is going to be revealed by Douglas next. It's not as tense or thrilling as The Secrets Between Us, but is certainly a good read for those who like something a bit darker in their reading material, and some quite serious issues are covered in the book. It's a well written and enjoyable read that is well worth picking up this summer.
ISBN: 978-0593070215. Published by Bantam Press on July 5th 2012. Pages: 384. RRP: £14.99. Also available as an eBook.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitchloe.blogspot.com
Thank you for reading.