Once Upon A Lie

51YZ425tbhL._SY346_Clare and Lorraine have been best friends since college days. Now in their forties, it’s all about careers and families. Lorraine falls pregnant easily, but is without a steady partner. Clare is married to dependable Sam but cannot carry a baby full term and has suffered numerous miscarriages – and Sam is beginning to feel the strain as much as his wife. Despite this, Clare and Sam – Godparents to Lorraine’s children – are happy to accept the children for a sleepover. But while Lorraine is away at a spa with her mother, the unthinkable happens. Baby Theo is discovered dead. Friendships are torn apart, the police are called, lies are told in order to protect the innocent and every relationship is strained to break point. It’s only many years later when Sam discovers some vital evidence, that the shocking truth is revealed. I raced through this. The pace is good, the characters relatable. The clues as to what really happened to Theo and who was responsible are subtly interwoven into the fabric of the story from the beginning. And although I did guess the outcome as the story reached its conclusion, it didn’t spoil the enjoyment. A good thriller with plenty of character as well as plot.

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The Scarlet Dress

51pf40lkj7l._sy346_Alice Lang rents a caravan at Severn Sands holiday park during the blistering summer of 1995. She befriends Marnie, the small caretaker’s daughter, and Will Jones who works in the grounds. He’s not the only boy attracted to the troubled, enigmatic Miss Lang, but Will becomes unnaturally possessive when she attracts the attention of wealthy park owner’s son, Guy deVillars. When Alice disappears and her dress is found by the water’s edge, it is assumed she drowned. 25 years later when the seaside town is no longer fashionable, the holiday park is sold to developers and Alice Langs bones are discovered beneath a flower bed. Will, still consumed by the death of Alice, returns to Seven Sands, determined to discover who murdered the love of his life.
This novel is enriched by a strong sense of atmosphere created by the slightly creepy, old-fashioned holiday park, and the coastal stretches of a lonely estuary form the perfect stage for a murder-mystery. Its brilliantly executed by Douglas who always uses time and place to great effect. The story unfolds through two timelines, past and present, and the cast all come under suspicion. My allegiance changed throughout: Will, the obsessed, spurned lover. The deVillars family, privileged and seemingly above reproach, and then there’s the people around Marnie, the strange little girl who’d lost her mother in shadowy circumstances and is now a mute adult preferring the company of animals. Her father, and his unexplained absence on the night Alice went missing…

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The Secrets Between Us

Sarah takes a holiday in Sicily in the wake of bereavement and a failed relationship. She meets troubled, brooding Alex and they immediately form a bond. When Alex suggests Sarah might like to become his housekeeper-cum-childminder in England, she accepts without hesitation – anything other than return to her previous life, a life destroyed by her partner and her best friend. On the face of it this sounds like the recipe for an impulsive holiday romance. However, once installed in the chaotic farmhouse in rural Somerset where Alex and his son live, Sarah soon becomes drawn in to the mysterious disappearance of his wife, and questions are raised.
A beautiful equestrian star, Genevieve has gone missing following the impending break down of her marriage to Alex. Can Sarah trust Alex’s speculations as to what has happened, or should she believe the more uncomfortable rumours in the village?
An unusual mix of genre; an interesting murder-mystery with a hint of paranormal. I didn’t care much for the ghostly element – it felt displaced somehow in a novel rich in reality but other than that, this was a compelling read especially in the second half when the pace picked-up, and various characters began to show their hand. There’s also a wonderful sense of place throughout; the author being especially skilled at creating atmosphere and imagery.

Where the Crawdads Sing

A gentle coming-of-age story and a murder-mystery, set along the coastal region of North Carolina – a vast area of marsh teeming with insects and birdlife. The youngest child of an abusive marriage, Kya finds herself abandoned in the family home, a place which amounts to nothing much more than a primitive shack in the marshlands. She spends her time studying and documenting the wildlife, finding great solace in her environment. Her survival depends on collecting oysters and catching and smoking fish to sell to the local village store, in return for boat fuel and other supplies. She soon meets Tate, and they form a teenage kinship. Although he teaches her to read and their relationship looks set to blossom, Tate moves away to further his education, but breaks his promise to return. Chase, the handsome sporting hero about town wastes no time in pursuing the now mature, beautiful, and elusive Marsh Girl. Kya eventually falls for his superficial charms, until the day Chase reveals his true character and she’s forced to retaliate. Meanwhile, Tate has sourced a publisher interested in Kya’s detailed documentation of the flora and fauna of the marsh. While she’s on a very rare trip out of town meeting her publisher, Chase is discovered dead and the town points its many fingers at the secretive, semi-feral Marsh Girl.

The first half of the book, describing Kya’s early years alone, I found a little tedious and repetitive: I’m not sure I completely swallow the fact that a girl at the tender age of seven finds the wherewithal to live quite as independently as Kya did, and that no one in the town sought to discover the truth about her living conditions and the absence of her family. And the dynamics of the murder reveal and the denouement, didn’t quite work for me. The strength of this novel lies in the lyrical narrative, which is rich in ecology, analogies, and the details of swamp life, all of which are expressed with a deft hand. It’s a unique setting, and the author uses clever comparisons of animal behaviours to add depth of character and explain motivation. I did enjoy the book, I just didn’t love it.