Twenty years after her 12th birthday ended in tragedy, Alice Beecham returns to her hometown in an attempt to make herself whole by figuring out what happened.
The summer of 1953 may have been uneventful for the world at large, but it was crucial for history teacher Fiona Beecham and her brood, who in the absence of their soldier husband and father have found a home with Fiona’s aunt in Shale, a town in coastal Kent. Even though nobody exactly liked 13-year-old Nicola Stone, nobody could resist her either. An arresting backstory—her father was doing time for strangling her friend Valerie Johnson two years earlier—combined with her sovereign impertinence and her budding sexuality to make her irresistible to the local lads, from Julian Tavistock to Alice’s all-but-twin Orlando, and those a bit older but no wiser, especially art teacher Bertram Yelland. As Alice struggles with unfamiliar and uncomfortable feelings for Sasha Elias, the piano teacher whose family was killed in the Holocaust, Nicola adroitly manages to affront every adult in Shale while remaining the alpha child in Alice’s circle. Her reign of terror ends when Orlando and Alice, picking blackberries the morning after Nicola’s rudeness spoiled Alice’s party the day before, find her beaten to death. When the passing years fail to bring resolution to the mystery of her death Alice resolves to mark the breakup of her marriage by resettling in Shale long enough to interview everyone concerned. She soon learns that despite their ritual reluctance, they’re more than willing to talk about the secrets they’ve hidden all these years.
Veteran Moody (Doubled in Spades, 1997, etc.) spins a puzzle that takes a back seat to her graceful evocation of her heroine’s childhood and its disintegration one fateful summer.