Zambia-born Oxford graduate Dymott’s debut novel moves slowly through the world of academia and postgraduate life as it chronicles the murder of a woman who was as mysterious in life as she was in death.
Alex Peterson and Rachel Cardadine marry after being seated near one another at the wedding of mutual friends following their graduations from Oxford. Rachel studied poetry, but Alex followed the law, and although they had known one another while students, this later meeting changed their relationship into something serious. One night, after dining with a former tutor and close friend, Rachel leaves Alex for a short walk alone by a nearby lake and is murdered. Alex is briefly arrested for the slaying, until the tutor steps forward and helps absolve him of the killing. Alex decides to dig into his dead wife’s mysterious past, which includes a rocky relationship with Evie, the odd and unforgiving godmother who supported Rachel, and her friendships with two college study companions. Readers will have difficulty embracing Alex and Rachel, since neither exhibits any warmth or even a quirkiness that might make them interesting. Instead, the story moves sluggishly along, encumbered by clunky dialogue, a meandering plot and constantly changing tenses within scenes, all of which detract from the narrative tension. But the author does reveal a nice sense of place, and her descriptions of the school and other geographic settings are compelling, while the secondary story, which centers upon Alex’s childhood, a tragic relationship with a friend and his father’s downfall, is nicely drawn.
Those who like moody British-based academic thrillers may find this is their cup of tea, but those not positively inclined toward excessive navel-gazing and a slow, deliberate plot will find it boring.