I love Karen Rose novels so I was really pleased to come across one I hadn't already read in the library recently. If you're a crime thriller fan, she's definitely an author to check out and You Belong To Me is a good example of her fantastic writing, even if the romantic sideline story did seem a little too sickly sweet at times.
To draw us in, we're told that this is a 'Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller', along with the tag line 'Eeny, Meeny, Miny Moe. Who'll be the next? No one knows...' We're introduced to Lucy Trask, the unfortunate forensic pathologist who discovers a mutilated corpse whilst out for a run near her local Baltimore Park. At first she thinks it's her neighbour and ex-school teacher Mr Pugh, an elderly man whom she cares a great deal for, because he's been made to appear like him. In fact, in turns out to be Russell Bennett, another name from her past. She has no idea why he's there, why he's been killed or why he's been made to look like someone else, but aside from the horrendous wounds suffered at first glance, he also seems to have a number '1' brandished on his back from a cigarette.
It's not until another dead body turns up, again brandished, that it seems a serial killer could be at large. But Lucy discovers this body too, and the ones that follow. Surely it's too coincidental for her to be in the wrong time and the wrong place each time, so what's the connection? Enter homicide detectives JD and Stevie, assigned to the case and frustrated from day one by the lack of leads or evidence left behind. They know Lucy's the key, but can she be trusted? It may be too late for JD as he already seems to be falling for the pathologist, but does he need to be weary of her or fear for her life? I won't say any more on the premise, but I will say that things get more complex at the story unravels and it's tied up nicely at the end.
I really liked the depth of this novel in terms of premise and characters. Each key player is created three dimensionally, so we get a good sense of who they are, how they relate, what they may be feeling and can picture them when we're reading along. For instance, we get to know a lot about Trask, not just in terms of her job, her friends, her house, but also of her history We learn about the parents that disowned her, the death of her brother when she was young and how she cares for her neighbour. Through this information we get a feel for the type of person she is, possible reasons behind her actions and this creates a sense of empathy for her. Similarly, through Trask we learn more about JD, and we eventually end up with two main characters that are very poignant and that I really enjoyed reading about because I could quite easily imagine them.
Rose is able to do a similar thing with each scene by bringing them to life and making them almost visible to us. It's quite a gritty storyline but it's created in a realistic and down to earth way that's easy to imagine and to feel like we're there with the characters.
The premise was kept interesting despite it actually being quite straight forward. Rose didn't add confusion where it wasn't necessary but did make it quite detailed. We're almost given two storylines, the other about an agency that gives a new identity to someone they think is in trouble, and these two storylines begin to converge as the body count rises. It adds another perspective to what's going on, so whilst we may have inclinations about what's what, the story is still very much unravelling before us rather than the puzzle already being completed half way through. It meant that I wanted to keep reading each page to know what happened next, so I'd say that the atmosphere and sense of tension was built well.
Rose does increase the character count quite significantly as people die and more background history is revealed. I sometimes have difficulty keeping up with so many names, but she re-capped well and didn't lose me or confuse me, so I found the book flowed well and wasn't off-putting due to any confusion caused. I actually really liked that more characters were involved, especially because the key players were still kept very much out front, as it added more depth to the premise.
The other thing is the sense of this novel being intelligently written. Rose has a very fluid writing style that comes across as mature and yet she still manages to integrate humour and give each character their own personality. She does crime technicalities well, giving us a good idea of how an investigation runs, the bureaucracy behind it and the efforts involved without overloading or boring us with technical jargon.
The only thing that irritated me slightly was the love interest between JD and Stevie, simply because I often find this to be over the top in crime novels in a way that distracts from the gritty premise. However, once I got past my initial 'meh' about it, their relationship actually added to some of the atmosphere and proved interesting to read because we got to learn more about the two characters through their interactions. Nothing is ever at it seems on the surface and this was evident with the characters in this novel.
Further praise on the back, it seems in general for Rose rather than this particular novel, includes 'Intense, complex, and unforgettable' - James Patterson, 'Page-turning' - Sunday Express and 'An engrossing read which fans of crime thrillers will love'. I would agree that Rose is a great writer who is able to breathe life in to scenes and characters whilst keeping the premise gritty and realistic, and this novel was no exception.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this whether you're familiar with Rose novels or not. It kept me hooked from start to finish and I was left feeling satisfied by having read an intelligent, gritty and interesting novel.
26 chapters plus epilogue over 547 pages
RRP £7.99 (paperback)