Fiction – Kindle edition; Headline; 352 pages; 2015. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.
After reading a succession of rather heavy literary novels (some of which are yet to be reviewed), I decided I needed to immerse myself in a psychological thriller — my palette cleanser of choice — which is how I came to read Colette McBeth’s The Life I Left Behind.
Trio of narrators
The story, which is set in West London (in locations I know very well), has three different narrators, who take it in turns to tell the story in alternate chapters.
The first is Melody Pieterson, a woman who survived an attempt on her life five years earlier and lived to tell the tale. But she’s now so psychologically scarred she can barely function and never leaves the house in the Surrey countryside that she shares with her fiancé, a doctor called Sam.
Then there is Eve Elliot, a freelance TV producer, who is found dead in the same heavily wooded location that Melody was discovered. She narrates her version of events from beyond the grave.
And finally there is Detective Inspector Victoria Rutter, who investigated Melody’s case, in which the attempted murderer was put behind bars. That man, David Alden, has recently been released from prison, so has he struck once again? DI Rutter isn’t quite so sure…
Twists and turns
The Life I Left Behind is full of lots of creepy twists, chilling turns and false leads. The main twist comes fairly early on when the identity of Melody’s attempted murderer is called into question. That’s because Eve had recently been researching the idea that David had been wrongly convicted — she had found new evidence which threw the guilty verdict into doubt — and had met with David on the night of her murder. What would he have to gain in killing the person who was championing his innocence?
There are lots of other minor twists as the story works towards its inevitable conclusion of revealing the identity of the real killer.
It is to the author’s credit that I failed to guess the ending. Indeed, the denouement is nicely done; it’s restrained yet satisfying, which can be quite a feat to pull off in this genre which so often resorts to over-the-top drama or ties up everything in too neat a package.
Compelling but flawed
But while the plot is compelling and original, the book does have a few flaws, not the least of which is David’s wrongful conviction, which seems slightly preposterous and not truly rooted in reality. The only way I could enjoy this story was to suspend belief and try not to worry about the fact that the police and David’s own defence counsel hadn’t done their jobs properly.
And the characters — including the trio of subsidiary male ones — while all well-drawn, are weak, shallow and manipulative. I know you don’t need to like characters to like a book, but in a psychological thriller it helps to at least empathise with the victim so you can will them to escape from the danger that threatens them. In this case, I couldn’t care less about Melody — and Eve, well, she was already dead, so what was the point?
All in all, The Life I Left Behind is a fairly average psychological thriller — although all the four- and five-star reviews on Amazon might suggest otherwise.