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Unusual character driven mystery with a claustrophobic atmosphere
on 24 April 2010
Thirty years ago, Kate Mayfield spent the summer in a country house with her boyfriend, Danny, and his best friend, Simon. On a day trip to the beach, they met free-spirited Trudie, who came to live with them. Her addition to the party created tensions between the group, and jealousy and passions soon erupted, followed quickly by violence...In the present, Kate receives a letter from Danny's elderly mother, summoning her to a final meeting. How much can she possibly know about the traumatic summer that has haunted Kate ever since?
When I first started this book, I didn't think I would like it. For me, the beginning had an air of 'Surfacing', by Margaret Atwood, a novel I particularly hated, but it soon moved away from this. The book manages to evoke the Seventies atmosphere well, and I could imagine what it was like to be young in this time; plenty of Cat Stevens, cheesecloth clothes, long hair and sweeping skirts.
At first the story is a simple tale of youthful relationships, the mystery comes in the present day segments, where Kate dwells on her visit to Danny's mother, afraid of past secrets. As the story slowly unravels, through a combination of flashbacks and present-day discussion, a heavy, claustrophobic atmosphere emerges as the teenagers fight and loyalties change. The summer is unbearably hot, and the group are isolated from the outside world in a lonely house belonging to Simon's uncle. Whenever an outsider appears, their presence jarrs amongst the teenagers. The situation comes to a head with a mysterious death three-quarters of the way through the novel, and the remaining members of the group quickly descend into guilt and paranoia. Their feelings are convincingly drawn, and their petty disagreements and squabbles add realism to the story.
This isn't a standard mystery, it focuses on characters and is stronger for this, as the believability of the plot hinges on the complex nature of the four youths and the relationships between them. It is difficult to know which of the characters to sympathise with, as the story is told from Kate's perspective, Trudie is initially dealt with quite harshly, due to Kate's suspicion and jealousy, but as she gets to know the younger girl, another side of her nature is revealed. There are a few moments that might raise eyebrows, but in the end the story comes together convincingly, something Kate herself reflects upon. This isn't a fast paced story, but has a creeping sense of unease that will keep you reading until the end.