A casual comment.
There’s a killer among us.
That’s all it takes.
She stabbed little Robbie Harris.
To change a life –
She’s living under a new name.
She’s reformed. So they say . . .
Joanna is going to regret the day she ever said a word.
When I was offered the opportunity to get my hands on a pre-launch copy of this book I jumped at the chance. I knew what the basis of the story was, but wasn’t prepared for the engaging mix of paranoia, suspicion and danger that ensued.
Joanna hears a rumour at the school gates and casually repeats it, because after all it’s just a silly piece of gossip – isn’t it? The fact that it helps to ingratiate her into the ‘inner circle’ is also a plus. But gossip is rarely silly or innocent, it’s like opening Pandora’s box, once it’s out there, it’s hard to put a lid on it and it takes on a life of its own. The rumour is that Sally McGowan in living under an assumed identity in their little seaside town of Flinstead-on Sea. Sally was notorious for stabbing 5-year-old Robbie Harris to death, when she herself was just 10 years old in 1969. The most recent photograph shows her as a teenager, but most people remember the unnerving picture published during her trial as she stares directly into the camera. So essentially she could be any one of many middle-aged ladies, who keep themselves to themselves – and therein lies the problem – if it’s true.
Despite Joanna’s best efforts to back track, it’s too late, the rumour is out there and a vigilante mentality takes over the town. The fact that Joanna’s on/off partner, and father to her 6-year-old son is a journalist also complicates matters. He sees the rumour to be a chance to track Sally down and get an exclusive story. So all in all, Sally’s identity is unlikely to stay secret for long.
I loved the premise of the story, it’s quite a simple theme, but a very powerful one. As someone who is old enough to remember the Mary Bell case, this has strong echoes of her story, which makes it all the more realistic. The realism is added to by occasional flashbacks to newspaper reports and witness and family impact statements. As a balance ‘Sally’ herself comments on the way she is unable to settle, and is hunted and haunted as a consequence of her action. The reality is though, it’s never going to be easy to present a sympathetic portrayal of a child killer, no matter that they themselves have been abused and failed by those that should have loved and protected them. Add in the fact that she’s female and it makes her doubly monstrous, as society seems to have a tendency to see murders by children and/or women as worse than other murders.
There is an underlying feeling of tension and unease throughout the book and it surfaces when Joanna starts to fear for the safety of her own son Alfie. But is her fear real or imagined? To discover that, along with whether Sally is actually, living among them and whether she was the monster she was portrayed as you’ll need to read for yourself. All I’m prepared to reveal is that in making those discoveries you’ll find blind alleys, red herrings, danger and drama. All in all a cracking read that doesn’t let up until the final page.