Imagine two strangers, both married with children, serendipitously flung together after a terrible traffic accident takes the life of an innocent teenage girl. Imagine how these people must cope with the sudden grief and loss, how they try to walk away as in an instant their lives are transformed. With the light fading fast, the edges of shapes bleeding into a blue gloom and a light rain falling, local police constable Jack Philips stares down at the body of Laura and actually feels her body flinch at his words: “She broke the spell. She moved away.”
As Jack recalls her body lying pale, her breath only a faint warm fan of air against her cheek, the coroner finds that Laura died from punctured lung, coupled with a hemorrhage to the brain when her head hit the road. No one was to blame; it was an unavoidable accident. The checks on the car, the post-mortem reports and the witness statements - especially that of Jack’s best mate, Dave - support the fact that there is no case and that Jack “had done nothing wrong.”
This news does little to assuage Laura’s parents, Lisa and Derrick Jenkins, the death of Laura coming so suddenly: “you were alive when I went to work and dead when I came home.” As Laura’s ghost seems almost to step into their lives, weaving her small, delicate threads, Derek collapses, eaten away by vengeance towards Jack: “You killed my daughter. My daughter is dead because of you.”
In a world choked with grief, the shrine that Derek builds in his back shed most shatters Lisa’s confidence in herself and in her marriage. He fanatically posts newspapers with photographs of hit-and-run accidents, cut out into geometric shapes and thumb-tacked to the wall. Yet it is Jack who seems to suffer the most, haunted by the guilt at what he’s done and Laura’s pale face, the way her lips moved, her eyes stirring under their lids, the blood that curled from her hair.
Jack’s wife, Sam, frantically tries to comfort him along with his daughters, Jessica and Bethan, but the memories always seem to fall like “sudden shadows” when he sees Laura reflected in Bethan’s face. When his boss recommends a leave of absence and perhaps some psychological counseling, Jack reluctantly agrees, pushing back his feelings and thoughts and the pictures “buttoning it all up under the thick serge of the uniform.”
As all of these endless lives are destroyed, “shut up like silent witnesses,” author Elizabeth Diamond beautifully moves between Jack and Lisa’s voices, exposing their layers of grief and loss in a story that seems to literally bleed with revenge and bittersweet hurt. The author digs deep into the interior lives of her two major players, exploring the redemptive power of loss and of love even as time “slips like sand through the sieve,” bringing back the past.
It’s inevitable that such a tragedy will transform the lives of Jack and Lisa. As the grieving process cocoons them, both are propelled into a different kind of future, a strange surge of excitement “as the clockwork of their lives” is set in motion again. Faced with difficult decisions, Jack rediscovers a lost family connection, and Lisa is forced move away to care for her aging mother. Ultimately proving their mettle and resiliency, both end up following new paths of love, the burdens of suffering lifted, the ghost of Laura always with them as she quietly sends them on their way.