I became acquainted with Colette McBeth’s work at last year’s Brighton Festival. My fellow volunteer, Agnes and I, ended up at the crime event concluding the festivals events. She was on a panel with another novelist I discovered, Natalie Haynes. After the event, I immediately went home and bought both their books. I planned to write about both of them on my blog, but I couldn’t quite gather my thoughts on Precious Things past, ‘That was amazing!’
I’m not usually one for crime, not that I don’t enjoy it, but I find if I read too much I quickly become bored with the format. McBeth is very good at diverging from form while also giving you enough to feel smugly as if you solved the murder first. Her novels are less ‘who done it?’ and more ‘how will these people live with it?’ – what will they do to overcome it.
“Six years ago, Melody Pieterson was attacked and left for dead. Only a chance encounter with a dog walker saved her life. Melody’s neighbor and close friend David Alden was found guilty of the crime and imprisoned, and the attack and David’s betrayal of her friendship left Melody a different person. She no longer trusts her own judgment, she no longer trusts her friends. In fact, she no longer really has any friends. She’s built a life behind walls and gates and security codes; she’s cloistered herself away from the world almost entirely.
And then, soon after David is released from prison, Eve Elliot is murdered in an attack almost identical to Melody’s. With the start of a new police investigation, Melody is suddenly pulled from her ordered, secluded life and back into the messy world around her. But as she learns more about Eve’s murder, Melody starts to wonder if perhaps David hadn’t betrayed her after all…if perhaps the killer is someone else entirely, someone who’s still out there, preparing to strike again.” GoodReads.
Often when I write that a novel was difficult to put down, what I mean is that I just found it very enjoyable. When I say The Life I Left Behind was hard to put down, I mean exactly that. I read it on my lunch break and on the way back from work. It was both entertaining and made me anxious to read more. It played with my emotions.
When I read the synopsis, the idea of one character being dead didn’t exactly appeal. Would it be akin to Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)? I pondered. Yet, having a dead protagonist, Eve, put the tale through an entirely different (and refreshing eye). Instead of an omniscient narrator, we encounter a series of unreliable characters, with Eve knowing all, but unable to give any of it away.
Opposite Eve, there is Melody. A woman who is broken by at attempt on her life by a person she trusted over five years ago. She has confined herself to her mind, shut off a part of her personality that was ever adventurous or happy. She can’t control how she feels about her attack, so she controls the little of her life around her, and allows the people in her life to guide her. Eve is a reflection of her past, and via Eve’s death Melody is finally able to begin the process of repair.
The Life I Left Behind is a story about women, a case solved by women, featuring strong female characters. It’s not a story of women over men, it’s an honest story about women being just as awesome. Fixing themselves without the help of romance. Which is one of the reasons I absolutely loved it, it gave me elements of storytelling I love, but don’t often find together. Not to say more like this don’t exist because they do.
There were a few things that bothered me: I wanted to know more about the killer’s background and what happened after conclusion. But, that wasn’t what they story was about, so in this instance, I’m happy to remain ignorant.