A Cambridge professor’s quest for the truth about her origins, and a student love triangle, lead to murder, in Winslow’s uneven debut.
Polly, an American student at Cambridge, and her English friend Nick are helping their classmate Liv perform her part-time job, assisting a blind professor, Gretchen, with research into her family history. Gretchen’s mother, Linda Paul, published a successful series of novels but sacrificed her career to raise Gretchen. Or so Gretchen always believed. Nick shocks Gretchen with evidence that her real mother was not Linda Paul but a crazed fan who insinuated herself into the author’s life, and then assumed her identity. Nick goes on a drunken bender after his romantic advances literally sicken Polly—flashbacks reveal that her revulsion stems from the murder of her first boyfriend by her father years before. Polly’s mother Miranda is further complicating her life by arriving uninvited in Cambridge to shadow her daughter. When Nick goes missing, police inspector Morris is called in. Nick is alive, but trapped in a vacant mansion owned by an older lady friend, Lesley. A bad sprain incurred on the premises prevents him from leaving until Lesley happens by. Lost on his return to Cambridge, Nick, a novice driver, veers off onto a side road and, in the dark, runs over none other than Gretchen. Morris’ investigation reveals that Gretchen had been dead for hours before Nick ran her over. The remote cottage Gretchen was visiting belongs to Susan, the writer formerly known as Linda Paul. Meanwhile, Gretchen’s husband Harry, a canary aficionado, is found dead at their home, his attic aviary ransacked. Liv is growing increasingly desperate. Not only is she stung by Nick’s preference for Polly, her parents—San Francisco dot-commers gone bust—can no longer afford her Cambridge education.
The confusing tangle of plotlines, too many clashing points of view and excessive attention to extraneous and not very engaging detail, often halt the pace of this would-be thriller.