How do you stop a murder when it’s already happened?

I was hooked by the tagline and reassured from reading previous McAllister books that such a brilliant premise wouldn’t fizzle out or otherwise disappoint. This, I was certain, would be a brilliant read – and it was.

What’s it about?

Jen is waiting up for her teenage son one dark October night when she witnesses him stab a complete stranger. This isn’t the Todd she knows, but before Jen can get any information out of her son, the police arrive, Todd confesses and he is taken away to be charged.

Full of questions, Jen and her husband follow the police to the police station, but they are not allowed to see Todd, who is refusing to see a solicitor.

Exhausted and confused, Jen eventually falls asleep on the sofa, but when she wakes up, her confusion deepens as she realises that she’s somehow woken up yesterday – the day before the murder.

As the yesterdays mount up, Jen realises that if she can only discover why the murder happened, she might be able to stop it…

What’s it like?

Instantly and consistently engaging. Very relatable. Superbly plotted.

I loved this from beginning to end (though found the token attempt to explain the time loop unnecessary) and immediately began re-reading it again to spot the clues I knew I must have missed the first time around. (Like the fact that Jen feels deja vu even before the stabbing…)

Everything about this worked for me. Relationships are one of McAllister’s key strengths and this mother – son relationship is convincing right from the start, as Jen quickly reflects on the ways her son has been changing lately – losing weight, becoming more moody, more secretive – and realises that, in the hectic day to day of everyday life, she has missed some significant moments that might have allowed her an insight into Todd’s problem sooner.

Nobody stabs a stranger, of course, (significant mental health issues aside) and the gradual unravelling of the characters’ relationships and histories unfurled beautifully. Working backwards definitely makes it harder to predict what certain characters are referring to and every secret revealed packed a punch.

Then there’s the ending, where the final threads pull together and then – oooh, I loved that final chapter!

Final thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed every part of this story, but I think I particularly enjoyed the threads McAllister established around the middle section of the book. Any reader who frequently reads crime fiction will immediately suspect the husband of involvement somehow, but McAllister focuses on Jen’s anxiety to the point where it’s almost equally plausible that she suffers from debilitating anxiety or her husband is gaslighting her. Almost!

Actually, this does remind me of my one niggle about the storytelling: Jen spends a lot of time reflecting on how her mothering may have contributed to Todd’s predicament, and a lot of this anxiety is focused around her work. Motherhood is demanding and parenting obviously has a significant impact on children, but Jen’s concerns are pronounced:

‘Never a confident parent, Jen feels certain, deep inside herself, that something must have happened. Maybe in Todd’s early years. When Todd was four, she clean forgot to collect him from nursery’.

I almost wanted to shout at her, You did the best you could! One mistake does not a murderer make. Perhaps this is just my own sensitivities flaring. It is very easy to feel like you are failing as a parent and to worry about the impact that might have on your child in their future, and Jen – understandably! – does this a lot, which probably just felt rather close to home.

Very enjoyable. Highly recommended.

I also recommend McAllister’s earlier books, ‘Anything You Do Say‘, and ‘The Evidence Against You‘. Follow the links for my reviews.

‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’,
Gillian McAllister,
2023, Penguin Books, paperback