Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on What You Left Behind.
The bucolic village of Radcote is a far cry from big-city bustle, yet a recent spate of teen suicides has badly shaken the small community. Months later, when a tragic motorcycle accident that takes the life of a young man from a homeless shelter turns ominous with the discovery of a suicide note, the villagers are immediately concerned that the nightmare is happening again. Another questionable death--also with a suicide note--reawakens simmering fears of something radically wrong in that community.
Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher is unaware of the drama unfolding in Radcote when she drives from home in Birmingham to visit her sister, Jo. Their relationship has been fractious over the years, but Lorraine thinks it important to make the effort on behalf of both families. While Lorraine is accompanied by her younger daughter, Stella, her husband--Adam, also a detective inspector--remains at home with their older daughter. Jo, recently separated from her husband, Malc, has been much concerned of late by the behavior of her son, Freddie, who has isolated himself from the family and avoids socializing with friends, spending long hours in his room on the computer. A sensitive boy on the verge of his first real relationship with a neighbor, the sister of one of the teens who committed suicide, Freddie is currently confronted with a problem that he has no skills to address, both ashamed and humiliated, his silence a product of a teenager’s natural reluctance to articulate his troubles.
While the sisters reacquaint themselves and hold hushed concerns over Freddie’s unusual behavior, the two new deaths in the village cannot help but attract notice and increased ruminations over what has prompted the new suicides, especially anxious that the pattern is continuing. Lorraine has no intention of injecting herself into an investigation that thus far confirms a finding of suicide, but when the actions of local families evoke suspicion, Lorraine’s natural inclinations take over. The tension is further exacerbated by Freddie’s reclusive behavior and refusal to join family outings. Clearly he is deeply troubled, but whether his issues are connected to the suicides remains a mystery, the boy resorting to his own measures to deal with his problems. In any case, both the history of past suicides and the current cases have unnerved an already worried community. One family in particular, still grieving a son, has yet to recover from that devastating trauma, fractured by the unremitting depression of a mother who blames herself. The fact that Freddie is friends with the daughter of this family only draws the troubled young man deeper into events that are spiraling out of control. He remains unreachable, paralyzed by a threat he cannot handle.
While Lorraine and Jo spar in the manner of sisters with unresolved emotional issues of long standing, both are drawn into the village drama. Lorraine gives in to her investigative instincts as a trained detective; Jo
grows increasingly anxious over the welfare of her son. Secrets and lies corrupt any opportunity for a family to deal with a beloved son’s death.
Even voluntary work at a homeless shelter fails to alleviate the pain, while more violence hovers with a desperate attempt to control the outcome of the investigation. Hayes cleverly balances both characters and circumstances in a believable blend of complicated family relationships and the burden of loss, the foolish choices that unintentionally jeopardize loved ones, and the willful blindness of those who can’t bear the truth. Well played.