Written by Rachel Abbott — Away from the blood, guts and gore of crime fiction, I’ve always been a big fan of Joanna Trollope. I love the way she creates a little section of humanity and explores the intrigue and interactions that make it tick. Happily, I can now indulge both loves, because in The Back Road, Rachel Abbott offers a tasty cocktail of crime and community connivance. This is the author’s second book after the ebook sensation Only the Innocent.
The book opens on a dark note, with two little girls, bound and gagged, cowering in a locked cupboard, while listening to the sounds of their mother having rough sex with a stranger. Leap to the present, to a pretty Cheshire village, where wife and mother Ellie is admiring the newly-completed renovations to her home and planning that most middle-class of events, a dinner party, to celebrate. Ellie is an intensive care nurse, she has a loving husband, Max, who teaches physical education, and adorable twins. On the face of it, she has the perfect life. Meanwhile, successful life coach Leo has left her stylish Manchester home and is in her convertible, top down, on the way to visit her sister.
Two happy little scenarios? Well, perhaps not. We soon discover that Ellie is fighting off the obsessive affections of a mysterious male admirer, while Leo (short for Leonora) is apparently much better at helping other people to face their problems than confronting her own – and it transpires that the pair are half-sisters, still battling the demons of a disastrous childhood.
The home Ellie has so lovingly transformed is the same place Leo ran away from at her first opportunity and she hasn’t been back since. Now their mother is dead and the place has been transformed – can she face up to her past?
The problems of Ellie and Leo pale into insignificance when a young girl is left for dead by a hit and run driver on a village back road used only by locals – the ‘back road’ of the title. She was barefoot and apparently running away from someone, and her mobile phone is missing. Speculation is rife at Ellie’s dinner party. Could the driver be someone they know? The problem is that everyone seated at the table appears to have something to hide.
There are red herrings galore in this well scripted plot and even when you think you have the story sussed, Abbott throws a spanner into the works. Some of the characters are a little cliched, but stand-outs for me are the cleverly created Leo and Ellie’s new next-door neighbour, former policeman Tom Douglas (whom Abbott fans will remember from her debut novel, Only The Innocent). Both play pivotal roles and give the story a frisson of romantic tension which is a neat counterpoint to all the dark secrets and nasty surprises.
In creating this very modern tale of murder and intrigue, it appears Abbott has been inspired by Joanna Trollope and even Agatha Christie – but luckily, she demonstrates enough skills of her own to make it a refreshingly original read.
CFL Rarting: 4 Stars