The Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival Challenge (TOPCWFC for short) has got off to a flying start. My first book was by Laura Lippman called Never look back.
A brand new author for me, the story is about Elizabeth, now Eliza, who is married with 2 children including a teenage daughter. Eliza was kidnapped when she was 15 by Walter the serial killer (the choice of name could probably have done with some work) Walter is on death row for the killing of two girls, plus he was convicted of the rape and kidnapping of Eliza. (So technically not a serial killer but lets gloss over that point)
Returning to America after many years of living in England she receives a letter from Walter which leads to phone calls between them and then finally a visit. Walter is hoping he can use the power he had over a 15 year old Elizabeth, to manipulate the adult Eliza to change her story and get him a stay of execution.
The story flipped between past and present, and whilst it was not a fast paced thriller, it was a very clever page turner. The mix between the adult and the child story was intriguing, and the idea of starting from the end when the criminal has already been caught was an interesting idea. The crimes themselves were almost secondary to a story that was about human emotion and reaction rather than a string of gruesome murders (usually my more favoured stories!)
Certain elements seemed a bit daft, for example she installs a separate land line phone purely for him to ring on, rather than a pay as you go mobile which could be turned off. But as a plot device used to build the tension that can be forgiven. Everyone knows that waiting for a phonecall is nerve racking, and the phone sitting in the corner helped build the suspense.
The story has a grounding in the idea of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ Eliza spent six weeks with Walter, and during this time it seems as though she made little attempt to escape and was with him when the final victim was killed. In the story many believed at the time that Eliza was Walter’s girlfriend and involved willingly in the crimes. However I felt it was more that Eliza was simply scared and naïve rather than experiencing any real empathy towards Walter. She’s portrayed as quite weak and her adult self wants her husband to make all decisions and constantly asks his opinion. The reader is left wandering is this a reaction to her kidnapping, or is her
Walter himself thinks of her as different to the others, and uses this to try and make her believe that he didn’t kill the girl. The ending of the book was good although, more of a Coronation Street ending, than a Sherlock Holmes one. You knew what was going to happen, briefly you think there might be a surprise, then its back to what you thought would happen in the first place. That’s not a criticism I happen to be a big Corrie fan.
One of the outcomes of the TOPCWFC (That’s never going to catch on!) is that it will help us decide which authors we definitely need to see talk, and which we can miss in favour of Betty’s coffee. I think Laura Lippman is a definite need to see.