Occasionally, a book can become a victim of its own publicity.

Clare Mackintosh’s dramatic debut novel, ‘I Let You Go’, has been extensively marketed and reviewed as containing an ‘astonishing‘ and ‘shocking‘ twist. So, as a reader of many crime thrillers and psychological suspense stories containing big twists, I was obviously On Guard for hints and clues pertaining to the Astonishing, Shocking twist. And, presumably because I was looking for them, I found them easily and the Massive Big Twist was, um, not. In fact, events seemed so clearly signposted that I wondered whether I was wrong and something much…twistier…was afoot, but I was right and actually found the ending of part one a little flat.

All of which is a lengthy way of saying that sometimes priming readers to expect a huge twist might not work in an author’s favour; I would have enjoyed this far more had the intended twist had the impact it was meant to, or even if I had still spotted it in advance but not been led to expect a shattering development. (I appreciate that it’s equally possible to argue that I spoiled my own fun, but part of the joy of these kinds of stories is to guess where you might be taken, and I really do feel that the signs were quite clear from the start.)

Still, it’s possible to foresee a twist and still enjoy the story an author has to tell, and I really did enjoy this.

What’s it about?

A tragic accident results in the death of a five year old boy. Devastated by the implosion of her life and desperate to escape, Jenna Gray flees to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, where she initially struggles to cope with her memories and her grief.

Gradually, Jenna begins to build a life for herself, but her past isn’t about to disappear that easily, and when it catches up to her, it may just destroy her.

What’s it like?

A compelling mix of police procedural and personal drama. Chapters narrated in the first person by Jenna reveal her almost-paralysing fear and Mackintosh deftly balances the emotional weight of these fraught interludes with more mundane, but equally revealing, scenes from the ongoing murder investigation. DI Ray Stevens is mentoring DC Kate Evans and it’s immediately clear that his admiration for her youthful stamina and principles has the potential to spill over into their personal lives. In fact, we learn so much about the the relationships between Evans, Stevens, wife Mags and son Tom, that I wonder whether they will feature in her next book, ‘I See You’.

Mackintosh has been a police officer herself, and some of the ideas behind this story were inspired by a case that was ongoing during her first few years as an officer, so it was particularly interesting to read the chapters featuring the police officers as I felt like it was quite an ‘inside’ view being offered. (This was especially true of the barrister who suggests a tactical ‘sneezing fit’.) The long hours and camaradie are well-portrayed and I felt sympathy with DI Stevens even as he irritated me. (Of course this pretty, young, fiery woman who you’re spending most of your time with seems more appealing right now than your wife, but please, please, switch on your brain!)

Jenna is a complex character who is likely to draw strong feelings from readers as her story trajectory develops, but just as you might decide to loathe her, another narration enters the mix: this sinister first person voice forms perhaps the most chilling and effective narrative strand of the entire story, and I loved this insight into a dark mind.

Final thoughts

Mackintosh’s writing is at turns beautiful, saddening and shocking. It is always suspenseful. There are several twists, so if you do spot the first one coming, there’s still plenty to be stunned by. Even the ending is startlingly open in one key aspect, leaving readers to speculate about whether or not the remaining characters can move forwards or if they will remain haunted by the novel’s events and departed people.

I really enjoyed reading this and particularly liked the way the action was spread over more than a year; the whole storyline felt very convincing, despite some very dark and dramatic scenes near the end.

It’s easy to see why this genuinely chilling story has been so popular and I shall definitely be keeping an eye out for ‘I See You’.

‘I Let You Go’,
Clare Mackintosh,
2015, Sphere, paperback