Written by Amanda Jennings — Life and death, every crime novel needs ’em. And it’s a particularly dramatic demise that starts the ball rolling in this stunning example of domestic noir.
When her father commits suicide on the day after her mother’s funeral, Bella struggles to come to terms with such a devastating double loss. But a letter, addressed to her in her father’s careful hand, is about to make things even worse. She’s enjoyed a cosseted, charmed life up until now – the content of the letter reveals that life to be a complete lie.
In truth, the erstwhile Bella Campbell is someone else entirely because she was taken as a toddler by the people she believed were her parents and brought up as their own. It explains why she was home-tutored in a house where the curtains were always drawn, and discouraged from mixing with other children. But what drove an outwardly respectable couple to do such a thing?
As the flimsy framework of a life built on sand collapses, Bella must begin to construct another. But can this shy, self-conscious woman emerge from her shell and face the world head on? You betcha, and I found myself cheering her on every faltering step of the way.
Up until now, Bella has been happy to take the path of least resistance, never rebelling against the strange, constricted ways of the people she thought were her parents. And her marriage to David, formerly her university lecturer and many years her senior, has been run along the same lines. She has always been controlled but now, having discovered that her real name is Morveren Tremayne, she is about to cut those strings and find out who she really is.
Her quest leads her to the rugged Cornish coastline, and as Bella strips away the many layers of mystery surrounding her disappearance 25 years ago, she is confronted by some uncomfortable truths. Grief and madness, family and friendship, trust and betrayal all play a part in a story which sneakily lulls you into a false sense of security before chucking in another wickedly ingenious revelation. The characters leap off the page and the Cornwall settings are as dramatic and sharply focused as a landscape photograph. It’s one of those love/hate conundrums where you love the reading journey so much that you hate that it has to end.
This is Amanda Jennings’ third novel and surely one that will take her to the top of the tree. She professes to be fascinated by the way people react to trauma, how they deal with its long-term effects, and also the complex relationships within a family unit. Well, they don’t come much more complicated than this – and I think I’ll be dealing with the long term effects of In Her Wake for quite a while, because it’s the kind of novel that gets its hooks into you and never, ever lets go.
This book has elements of two of my favourite reads of recent years – there’s the darkly deceptive, twisty-turny brilliance of Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You go coupled with the ethereal beauty of Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors. Think of the real-life disappearances of the likes of Ben Needham and Madeline McCann and it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine a Bella-style revelation, but In Her Wake also has a hint of the supernatural lurking at the edges, the reader occasionally catching a glimpse from the corner of their eye like some fleeting, unexplained movement on the periphery of your vision.
My book of the year? It’s possible because this is going to take some beating!
CFL Rating: 5 Stars