Written by Anita Waller — ‘Beautiful’ – when Amy Andrews hears the word it takes her back to a time when she was Amelia, when she was six, when a man named Ronald Treverick snatched her from a park near her home in the south of England and raped her. Little Amelia had no idea what happened to her, only the pain, followed by the teasing from her schoolmates, the struggle to put her life back together, to move on. More than anything Amy wants to put the past behind her, to forget about her attacker and the thing he put inside her.
Amy grows up believing her attacker died later that day, shot by police while resisting arrest. In semi-rural England in the 1950s there is no way for her to know otherwise. Her parents lie to six-year-old Amelia for her own sake, and even as she starts calling herself Amy and tries to put the past behind her, they never find time to tell her the truth. Until the day of Treverick’s release from prison. Amy’s attacker spent the majority of his prison sentence in solitary confinement at his own request, after himself being raped by other prisoners. During his time in solitary he formulated a convoluted revenge plan against Amy and her family, who he believes ruined his life.
Amy spends more of her childhood trying to escape her past. She makes sure that she is the only one from her junior school to go to grammar school. She resorts to bullying and intimidation to make sure the past stays behind her, terrifying another girl into submission. But the past never stays buried – Sonia, the girl she fought for a place in the grammar school, suddenly appears in her class, with a sinister truth about Amy’s past. Amy’s new friend Pat suspects there’s something more to Amy than she lets on, and when Sonia plunges to her death on a school field trip, Pat refuses to acknowledge what she saw and what Amy’s role was.
This intense, murderous anger felt by the victim of a crime is something that doesn’t often feature in psychological crime, but author Anita Waller manages to show the darkness on both sides – both Amy and her attacker’s burning desire for revenge. As Amy grows up she tries to move on, tries to put together a happy family with her husband, who once saved her from bullies at school and is now a famous writer, but some things will never be the same. Amy can never have a child of her own, and every intimate moment with her husband reminds her of her attacker. And her attacker is closer than she thinks, lying in wait for his own taste of sweet revenge.
Debut author Anita Waller describes the genre she works in as ‘murder – necessary murder’ and as hard the idea of a necessary murder is to comprehend, she does a brilliant job of exposing the complex psychology of both criminal and victim. In a year that has seen a few great psychological thrillers published – many of them set in the south of England and written by women, in fact – Beautiful is a standout because of its compelling simplicity. While at times it may seem frustratingly naive and plain in style, Beautiful’s simplicity allows us to be drawn into to the psychologies of both victim and criminal, and exposes them, warts and all.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars