Unexpected, potentially suspicious, parental suicides seem to be cropping up a lot in my reading list at the moment, especially where UK authors are concerned, and quite possibly due to some well-publicised cases a few years ago. Whatever the reason, there are a variety of plot twists that can be laid over the same starting point, and I know from experience that I can rely on Clare Mackintosh to place a particularly interesting slant onto any topical theme. The first twist in this story is that the two apparent suicides occur some months apart, albeit at the same location, while the second is that the daughter left behind only begins to properly investigate what happened a year after the second death.
Anna Johnson is devastated when her father, an apparently successful second-hand car salesman suddenly commits suicide at the infamous Beachy Head – more so, perhaps, since his body has never been found. When her mother carries out a seemingly copycat suicide some months later, in the run-up to Christmas, Anna seeks counselling and ends up falling for her initial therapist. Now, a year on, Anna and her partner – and their new baby – are living in Anna’s parents’ former home as Anna still tries to make sense of what happened.
On the anniversary of her mother’s death, Anna receives an anonymous card alleging that her parents’ deaths weren’t suicides. Spurred into action, she takes the note first to her father’s brother – still running the family business – then, when he dismisses it as a crank letter, to the police. The retired detective manning the front desk takes Anna’s concerns more seriously than he suspects his younger colleagues might and begins to investigate, even as Anna does the same back at her home.
As Anna pieces together the truth of her parents’ life together – theirs was far from the happy marriage she always envisioned – more messages arrive, now becoming increasingly sinister. Although Anna is at first convinced that her parents were murdered, she soon comes to believe that they faked their deaths and are still alive – and possibly in grave danger.
I was thoroughly gripped by this story, narrated from three points of view: Anna’s, that of the retired detective, Murray Mackenzie, and that of the unnamed person – a murderer? – who is watching Anna’s investigations from afar. It took me a long while to work out who that third person was, due to all the very clever red herrings that were jumbled into the plot, but once I knew, all the clues had been there all along. It took me even longer to work out who else was responsible for the mysterious happenings that occurred once Anna began investigating, but again the answer was obvious once I knew it. Meanwhile, the views we got of Murray’s home life and his loving marriage to a woman with more than enough problems of her own was heart-wrenching, even as his courage at continuing to care for her was heart-warming. Another triumph from an outstanding author.
The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.
Last year, Tom and Caroline Johnson chose to end their lives, one seemingly unable to live without the other. Their daughter, Anna, is struggling to come to terms with her parents’ deaths, unwilling to accept the verdict of suicide.
Now with a baby herself, Anna feels her mother’s absence keenly and is determined to find out what really happened to her parents. But as she digs up the past, someone is trying to stop her.
Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie….
Read an excerpt.