The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

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The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A young girl grows up and returns to the scene of a brutal crime that destroyed her family in this thriller where nothing is as it seems
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751557503

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Many years ago, a tragedy shook an English village. A whole family wiped out with no warning, a whole family, that is, except for one of the daughters who was, unbeknown to the assailant, upstairs at the time. Esme was that girl, but she is no more. She has a new name, a new identity, a new life, far away from that terrible place. As Alison she flies under the radar, not attracting any attention, with a menial job to fill her days. And she has every intention of staying that way, no intention of ever stepping foot in Saltleigh again.

Out of the blue, her boyfriend Paul is attending a wedding in Saltleigh, and Alison is reluctantly forced to return to the scene of the crime. As Alison she is nothing but a stranger to the village, and she has no reason to refuse to accompany him, but as the wedding nears, her uneasiness grows. Old wounds are opened, old faces come out of the woodwork, and everything Esme believed to be true must now be re-examined.

The Esme / Alison split is an interesting one, because it’s more than just a moniker that has changed. Esme’s scenes are through the eyes of a child who believed what she saw, or thought she saw. As Alison, she has a grown up perspective but also memories that have faded through time. When we first meet Alison she seems a bit timid and boring, lacking conviction and trying to fade into the background so her transformation once she returns home is surprising. This would have been a bit of a different book if no one had recognised Alison on her return, but for whatever reason people do discover who she is, and that she’s back in town. And while she may not have intended to stir things up, that is certainly the result of her reappearance. The saying goes that the peasants are revolting, but here it’s the locals who are vile, and though it took me a while to warm to Alison, it was clear from the start that people wished her harm. Every walk on the moor or drive through the village left her exposed and she was braver than I would have been in that situation as the danger was palpable.

This is a spooky thriller due in part to the setting (bleak, remote village which you always feel is sees little daylight) and also the community who close ranks and don’t welcome outsiders, even or especially when they used to be insiders. Vigilante justice is a theme throughout the story, where people are convicted without trial by the local population, and action taken to punish those who deserve the things those people think they have done, whether or not this is the truth. Alison doesn't want to believe the perceived facts of the case, and has a personal mission to disprove them, but what we as the reader want to know is what actually happened, whether it’s a truth that will please or unsettle Alison further.

Told through flashbacks this is a complex story and requires some attention to keep up with it, and to sift the truth out from the nonsense, but it deserves the effort as it's extremely interesting intriguing. Thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durrant is another great read of this genre

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