Laura Powell, The Unforgotten (2016)
I quite enjoyed The Unforgotten, a debut psychological mystery by Laura Powell (I just made up this genre label), even if it wasn’t perfect.
One part of the story is set in 1956 in a little Cornwall village. Betty is 15 and helps her unstable mother who runs the day-to-day at the local hotel. She’s far too busy to have the usual concerns of a teen girl; her mother’s violent mood swings and often inappropriate behavior are just one of her concerns, now a string of murders of young women has turned the village on its head and a group of journalists have filled the hotel up. Villagers turn suspicious of one another and it’s not a good time for a girl to be on her own. But Betty is fifteen, and she falls in love… not with the one everyone expects her to. She’s pulled between her loyalty and love for her mother and her desire to grow up and run away. She’s attracted to one of the out-of-towner, the darkest, quietest and most mysterious of the journalists.
Another part of the story is set fifty years later, when Mary, an ageing, quiet woman, married with adult children and a recent diagnostic of cancer stumbles upon a newspaper that speaks of the “Cornish cleaver”, the man who has been convicted of the murders back then and who claims his innocence. Mary is upset and wonders if she has done “the right thing”.
Just as the rather bland title, the cover design is nice and stylish but doesn’t really prepare you for the darkness and the long-term guilt that shapes the characters’ entire lives. It’s sometimes a difficult read, especially when it comes to Betty’s mother’s mental illness and how destructive it is on her daughter’s growing up.
There was a dual time line (one of my pet peeves) and it was very clear from the beginning that Betty and Mary were the same person (no real spoiler here) and it was a bit confused at times. I didn’t quite warm up on Betty and on Mary as much as I’d thought, but the plot is really compelling and the twists and revelations at the end quite satisfying. Powell is interested in the long-term consequences of the murders and of the choices characters made early on in the story. As a debut novel, it’s quite a success and forebodes well for the future!
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy!