Cornwall, 1956: a young woman is drawn to an older man who's come to investigate a string of murders in Powell’s debut psychological thriller.
When a series of gruesome murders terrorizes the seaside town of St. Steele, reporters descend on the Cornish coast to get the scoop. The men take up residence at a boardinghouse run by the lovely and unstable Dolores Broadbent and her daughter, Betty. At 15, Betty often takes on the responsibility of running the hotel because of her mother’s tendency to drown her loneliness in alcohol. She exudes confidence as a flirt with the local boys but finds herself tongue-tied around the male reporters, especially the irascible Mr. Gallagher, who seems content to tap her as a “cheap source” for information about the chief murder suspect. Soon, however, they develop an undeniable attraction despite the fact that Mr. Gallagher is twice Betty’s age, and, against the grisly backdrop of the town tragedy, they begin a star-crossed love affair. The novel cuts between the story of that summer in 1956 and the actions of a character named Mary 50 years later. No spoilers here, but the two narratives are, of course, inextricably linked. While it’s a bit hard to accept the May-December romance between the main characters, the effect that this relationship has on Betty is harrowing. The second half of the novel, tracing Betty’s psychological trauma, is haunting and complex. It’s a real portrait of mental illness, and while it doesn’t make for light reading, it creates an emotional impact. There is, of course, also a reveal of the real killer in the last 20 pages, and the mystery is fairly believable and chilling.
A satisfying mystery as well as a complex portrait of the effects of emotional trauma and mental illness.