Author: Clare Mackintosh
A rainy night – the cold post-twilight streets slicked in wet and glistening oil, a small hand, just briefly letting go . . . and then brakes . . . and death. And so it begins, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, a visceral novel of both murder and grief, set against the backdrop of a twisting thriller and secrets hidden in a beach side cabin.
Jenna Gray remembers the exact moment of impact, the young face, surprised, smashing into the spidering windshield, the banshee wail, the impact of a life taken and another life forever ruined. Is she the mother, vividly imagining what happened or the murderess – guilty, but not quite guilty enough? Distraught, she smashes her life of crafted artwork and with scarred, bleeding hands, runs away to a place where she isn’t known and where she can begin again, in hiding. Only, the past has a way of following you.
Meanwhile, the case of the hit-and-run and the broken body of a five year old child continue to haunt DI Ray Stevens and his energetic new detective constable, Kate Evans. As long work hours, haunting cases, and problems with his teen son and upset wife best Ray, however, his focus shifts from bringing a killer to justice and instead he begins to paint the possibilities of a new future with Kate.
Slow starting and jumpy, Mackintosh is evidently following in the footsteps of Gone Girl and using teasers and lack of clarification to create mysteries and hazy character identifications. Just who is our main character, the melodramatic and seemingly amorphous Jenna Gray? It’s evident from the beginning that Mackintosh wants us confused –the opening chapter told from the beleaguered and blamed mother’s prospective jars into the next chapter, with a voice that is seemingly identical in cadence and speech but is instead Jenna. The mother then disappears and we are stuck with a character whose emotions are more told than shown, with the exception of a few over-the-top, clothes rending scenarios of uncontained grief (and possibly, guilt?)
The entire Part of I Let You Go is focused on Jenna’s new seaside life where despite attempts at hiding from the world on storm caked beaches, love and eventual friendship finds her. The plot slows, its gritty memories of blood spattered bumpers fading into a milieu that sounds like the beginning of a sappy romance/redemption novel.
Along the way, our side character police investigators are getting hot and heavy, mostly because Ray is discontented with the responsibilities he has for a troubled teenage son and a disappointed wife. Slowly, his feelings for Kate evolve as the story aims to build sympathy with a man haunted by his settled life and a wife similarly let down by losing her own career. The intention is an obvious connection with the every-man, examining concepts of loyalty, career, and dreams relinquished, yet the slow pacing and surface level characterization leave readers flipping through the Kate and Ray scenes while stifling a yawn.
After nearly grinding to a halt, and admittedly being forgotten in my pile of “current reads” several times, I eventually came to Part II which is where the action begins and Book of the Month’s recommendation suddenly makes more sense. With clarifications around Jenna’s role in the incident and the introduction of a new, sinister voice to the mix, the plot accelerates and Kate and Ray’s pedestrian romance is mercifully abandoned. The author seems to feel more comfort and the surprises and twists are less forced and more organic. Jenna’s Harlequinesque beach redemption sequence is at an end and answers become evident – perhaps too early and guessable, but still.
From Part II onward the story finds its identity and while it’s ultimately just a cheap thriller, it becomes a fun cheap thriller and readers stop putting the book aside and forgetting to pick it up again. We’re finally willing to suspend belief and while the characters themselves aren’t especially well drawn beyond the shell of the type they represent, the pressing nature of the sudden thematic introduction is relevant and wrenching. The conclusion is foreseen yet still titillating and while I Let You Go is not a book that will long remain memorable, Part II onwards was riveting enough to warrant the reading time and once again engage thriller loving audiences with dashes of sensationalism, insane villains, near-death encounters, complicated abusive relationships, and festering secrets.
– Frances Carden
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