Colette McBeth – The Life I Left Behind

colettemcbeth-thelifeileftbehindEveryone tells her she’s a survivor. No-one knows she’s dead inside.

She’s dead but she’s the only one who knows what really happened;

What your friends have said.

What the police missed.

Who attacked you.

So if you want the truth who else are you going to turn to?

Confession time: I’ve had a review copy of Colette McBeth’s Precious Thing sitting in my to read pile for over a year. And every time I picked it up and put it down because there were all of these SFF and historical fiction titles I wanted/needed to review first. However, when I visited Headline in October, they basically told me I had to read The Life I Left Behind, as it was just that good. And since I’d resolved to read more crime books this year – as I loved the ones I read last year so much, I thought McBeth’s second might be a good title to start 2015 with. It was, because The Life I Left Behind was an enthralling read, one I just couldn’t put down and which kept me awake long after I turned off the lights. 

The book tells the story of two crimes, an attack that left its victim in a coma for days and changed forever after and a murder. Two crimes that seem only connected through their perpetrator, but turn out to be far more closely linked than first assumed. Since it’s revealed in the first chapter, it’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that Eve is the dead woman from the blurb on the back of the book. I loved her voice; she’s brutally honest, tenacious, idealistic, and kind. She’s a vibrant presence in the narrative. Eve’s voice is omniscient, she’s the one who gives us all the viewpoints other than that of Melody and the DI in charge of the investigation into Eve’s murder. She’s also done much of the leg work towards solving her own murder for DI Rutter.

In some ways The Life I Left Behind reminded me so much of Serial, the podcast phenomenon that obsessed so many people in the last months of 2014. Eve’s investigation of Melody’s attack was very much in the vein of what Sarah Koenig did in the case of the murder of Hae Min Lee. At times it was uncanny. Then again it shows how well-written and researched the book is, because Eve follows all the steps a good investigative journalist would follow and asks all the right questions. Following Eve’s steps was a fascinating process, especially in the way McBeth reveals the things Eve discovers; partly through Eve’s recounting them when the investigation into her murder reaches the same point and partly through others reading her research into Melody’s case.

Melody’s storyline isn’t primarily about finally finding out who really attacked her all those years ago. To me, it’s far more about her reclaiming her life and her self confidence. I liked the arc McBeth plots for Melody, who when we meet her, is living a shadow life cloistered in her isolated house in the country, haunted by the person she used to be, and desperately keeping up appearances for the sake of those around her. When Eve is found murdered, ostensibly by the same man who attacked Melody six years before, everyone expects her to shatter and collapse, yet the opposite happens. I loved the way McBeth lets Melody rediscover her inner steel and take back her life.

The third viewpoint character is DI Victoria Rutter, who is our official eyes within the investigation. I liked her; she’s your typical hard-working police officer, torn between the demands of her job and those of her family. Her guilt over the times the job wins out over her children is palpable, yet she never apologises for wanting to do her job well. There are four other important characters in the book: Melody’s fiancé Sam, her best friend Patrick, Eve’s best friend Nat, and David, the man convicted of Melody’s attack. Due to his being Melody’s fiancé, Sam is one of the more important secondary characters and I just hated his guts. He’s such a pompous douche and just so, so wrong. While we don’t see that much of Patrick and David they are key characters in the book since David is who sets the whole plot in motion and Patrick always has Melody’s back. My favourite of these four, however, was Nat. Eve’s best friend and confidant, he’s just lovely and the way he and Melody connect and form a friendship is essential in her getting back control over her life.

The Life I Left Behind was a riveting read, with an ending that knocked the breath out of me and had me turning pages frantically to find out how it all resolved. McBeth creates vivid characters enmeshed in a complex web of mystery and lies, which she unravels with skill and an expert sense of pacing. If you enjoy intricate psychological thrillers or were as obsessed with Serial as I was, then I can’t recommend The Life I Left Behind highly enough. In the mean time I’ll be moving her previous novel Precious Thing up the review pile, because even if it is half as good as this one, it’ll be a great read.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.