Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott

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Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Part love story, part murder mystery, part campus novel - this may appeal to fans of Donna Tartt. More literary mystery than fast paced crime but pleasingly dark and twisted.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 374 Date: April 2012
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224094030

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We learn from the prologue that the narrator, Oxford educated lawyer, Alex's wife has been murdered. We also know that Alex knew little of his wife, Rachel's past, particularly of the time that they spent together at Worcester College. This is critical in understanding who may have killed her, and why. What follows is Alex learning about this hidden past. Every Contact Leaves a Trace is partly a thriller and partly a whodunnit although the structure adopted by Elanor Dymott is somewhat unusual.

Debut novelist Dymott read English at Oxford before qualifying as a lawyer. Her novel is set largely in the English faculty of an Oxford college and the narrator is a qualified lawyer. It's not surprising therefore that there is a level of authenticity to her prose. Perhaps less of a given is the quality of the writing which is compelling and lucid with dark overtones. Although I have some slight reservations about the structure of the book, the quality of the writing largely pushes these concerns into the background.

Brilliant, hedonistic students at Oxbridge colleges have an inherent glamour and fascination for many readers and in this regard, Dymott doesn't let the reader down. However, by setting events in the past and the story in the re-visiting of that history, the book isn't quite the UK equivalent of the ever-popular US style 'campus fiction' story, although in many ways there are similarities with the core characters consisting of Rachel's two fellow tutorial students and their kindly tutor, Harry.

Early on the book swings back and forth in time, including Alex's own childhood although this particular thread doesn't seem particularly relevant or revealing. However, it is to Dymott's credit that this time jumping isn't particularly disorientating.

I have a minor quibble that one of the aspects of the eventual suggested solutions to what happened has a logical inconsistency that Alex, as a lawyer who has so carefully weighed up the evidence throughout, would surely have questioned. For spoiler reasons, I cannot go into detail, but let's just say that a piece of critical evidence to the story would surely not have remained in the state it did if the proposed solution is what happened. Admittedly that's a minor point but if it occurs to me, one would expect it to have featured in Alex's otherwise logical approach.

The main difficulty though is in the structure of the book. While it is a mystery / whodunnit story at heart, it's not really a case of Alex searching around for different clues to what happened. For much of the book the heart of the story comes to him while he is literally sitting in an armchair in the form of reported evidence from the tutor, Harry. Although this isn't the whole story, it's difficult to escape the sense that the reader feels one step removed in that the story is reported by the narrator who is having the story reported to him. It's one thing if the narrator appears affected by these events, but he isn't really. He seems curiously dispassionate about the revelations.

Yet for all that, the heart of the story of what occurred in the student days is a compelling story and nicely twisted and disturbing. There's an intensity in the relationships that is well brought out which suggests that Dymott will be an interesting author to look out for in the future.

Out thanks to the kind people at Jonathan Cape for sending us this book.

For more debut fiction set in the education system, this time from across the pond, the much hyped The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach may well appeal.

Buy Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott at Amazon.com.



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