Book review: The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

Eve Elliot is the one person who knows what really happened when a young woman narrowly survived a brutal murder attempt five years ago… the problem is that Eve is dead.

Tuesday, 13th January 2015, 9:00 am
The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth
The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

Her voice from beyond the grave will reveal secrets, lies and betrayals, but can it help to track down a killer?

Narrators in the ‘afterlife’ – a device brilliantly employed by Alice Sebold in her 2002 classic novel The Lovely Bones – have become increasingly popular, and the inventive Colette McBeth uses it to penetrating effect in her addictive new thriller.

In the follow-up to her gripping debut, Precious Thing, McBeth once again plays clever tricks with our minds as she teases out a compelling and intriguing whodunit through alternating narratives.

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Tingling with danger, menace and suspense, and written with remarkably powerful psychological intensity, The Life I Left Behind lines up the suspects and then takes us on a revealing journey into the murky depths of a terrifying murder mystery.

Five years ago Melody Pieterson was attacked and left for dead. Friends, family and counsellors told her time was a healer but she didn’t believe it then and she doesn’t believe it now.

The man who was her neighbour was jailed for the crime but it has been little comfort for Melody who has no recollection of the assailant.

She has coped by burying the loud, confident and entertaining person she used to be, becoming cautious and introverted, locking away her memories and creating a new life for herself with her soon-to-be husband Sam.

Life should be about forward momentum but this is never more obvious, Melody knows, than when you are stuck and can’t move on.

Then the news breaks that the body of another woman has been found, close to where Melody was discovered in Richmond Park. Like her, Eve Elliot had blonde hair and green eyes and, like Melody, the police find a gold birdcage necklace at the scene.

Melody realises her attacker is still out there and sets out to discover everything she can about Eve to work out why they were targeted. But the more she gets to know her, the more she realises just what is wrong with her own life.

Eve may be dead but Melody discovers that there were links between them she never knew existed, and that Eve is the only person who can teach her how to live again. But will Melody ever get the chance, with a killer determined that this time she won’t survive…

McBeth – no stranger to the darker side of life having covered several notorious crimes while working as a BBC news correspondent – delivers a superb page-turner as well as a perceptive and sensitive portrayal of a young woman struggling to come to terms with a devastating attack.

Melody’s unenviable plight, her battle to understand events in the past and to learn to trust again is the dilemma of every woman who has been the victim of serious violence.

Eve’s testimony, meanwhile, is perfectly pitched, her strident, unflinching voice a tantalising device to reveal hidden truths and missed clues, rather than a ghostly echo from an eerie, ethereal ‘other world.’

Subtle, intelligent and utterly absorbing, this is a guessing game guaranteed to both chill and thrill.

(Headline Review, trade paperback, £13.99)