The Life I Left Behind
Colette McBeth
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The Life I Left Behind
Colette McBeth
Minotaur Books
352 pages
February 2015
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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One of the attributes that sets Colette McBeth apart from other writers of this genre is that she can write in such eloquent and polished prose. Her literary style is a gorgeous accent to this murder thriller that from the opening pages bleeds with menace and evil. Poor Eve Elliot’s body is spotted, hidden in dense woodland in misty Richmond Park, and her ghost will narrate this story as she tries discover the identity of her killer. For Eve, her real death leaves her begging, “for just one moment more,” to say all those words that didn’t seem that important when tomorrow still existed.

Also narrating the tale is vulnerable Melody Pieterson, who bears a striking resemblance to Eve. Having almost suffered the same fate as Eve several years previously, Melody now lives like a recluse. Her fiancé, Sam has shut her off from the world, ensconcing her in a house of glass and steel, a post-modern fortress several miles outside of London. When we first meet Melody, she’s having dinner party with her best friends, Patrick and Honor, as the invited guests. She’s supposed to be getting marred in three months, but when the TV headlines reveal that Eve’s body has been found, the images shake through Melody’s brain, stirring up all her personal demons and crippling her ability to move forward with her life.

As the gold pendant Eve was wearing catches her eye, damaged, depressed Melody finds little comfort in Sam or in the soothing words of Detective Inspector Victoria Rutter, who calls on Mel to see if she can recast her history and finally remember anything at all about that fateful night on Uxbridge Road. Each day presents a different kind of torture, the feeling “of her lungs collapsing.” “Like a twisted word game of bingo” of individual words and their attendant images, all Mel can hear is the buzz of a woman strangled and the name “David Alden,” who has recently been released from prison after serving five and a half years for grievous bodily harm. Whether overwhelmed by physical or emotional claustrophobia or by the violent spasms deep in her stomach, Melody can’t rise above that moment when she heard about Alden gaining his freedom.

DI Rutter considers Alden as the prime suspect in Eve’s murder: he was the last known person to see Eve alive, and he has no alibi for the night she disappeared. Then there’s the gold caged bird chain found in both Melody and Eve’s hands. Though unwilling to leave this world, Eve’s ghost hangs on, steadfast in her belief that Alden is innocent. Although Eve reportedly had found evidence to corroborate this belief, she’s gone--though her spirit continues to follow Melody as she seeks to know what Eve actually discovered about their attacker. Given that the police will probably come up with a far different version of events, Melanie decides to find out why Eve was targeted and killed. She resents, however, that Eve was digging around in the debris of her life, trying to unpick the facts that she has spent years trying to settle in her mind.

From Eve, who works alone, determined to get to the truth because she trusts her instincts over scientific evidence, to Rutter’s theories of Alden’s guilt, to the legal process that perhaps convicted an innocent man, to a “meddling woman who fell for a lie,” and to Melanie, who uncovers a world of nuances, theories and suppositions, McBeth writes an absolutely un-put-down-able novel as she builds the case for Alden’s innocence through Melody’s shattered memories of that night on Uxbridge Road, Victoria Rutter’s new investigation, and Eve, who is never quite able to drift away.

McBeth keeps the tension building while making us live and breathe Melody’s constant angst and the disappointed feeling that she let the police down because she couldn’t for the life of her remember why she was walking along Uxbridge Road at eleven pm just past the street where she lived. Even now, the memories of that night sit “under a dense fog that just won’t lift.” She can make out shapes and voices but nothing substantive. All Melanie recalls are colored shapes flashing past, leaving trails in her vision; the night smells, a potent combination of hot food and sweat; and the sound: perhaps the blare of a horn.

Had Melanie arranged to meet David Alden to go to a club with him? He was her best friend and her next-door neighbor, a man she trusted. McBeth shines in showing us how Melody is gradually undone by Sam and by her fear that Alden is out for vengeance. Inch by inch, we witness how the contents of Melanie’s head seem to “spill out into the room to dance before her.”

When all the tenets of justice fall away, McBeth leaves us with a shocking take on the classic murder story. This time there’s a real threat, Eve the collateral damage of a murderer’s dark fury;, andMelanie once again in peril as a killer comes closer to his frightened, neurotic quarry. Running to the South Coast but more than likely into the arms of danger, all that Melody holds dear is placed at risk. And there’s beloved Eve, Melody’s unlikely savior, still attached to this world but also well-removed into something immense and far beyond our experience.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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