After reading The Secrets Between Us last year as part of the Transworld Book Group, I’ve been looking forward to reading another book by Louise Douglas and I was pleased to find that her new novel, In Her Shadow, has the same combination of suspense, mystery and psychological drama that I loved in The Secrets Between Us.
The story is narrated by Hannah Brown who works at the Brunel Memorial Museum in Bristol. When Hannah glimpses her best friend Ellen Brecht in the museum one day, she is left feeling shocked and frightened…because Ellen died almost twenty years ago. Is Hannah imagining things or has her friend really come back from the dead?
In alternating chapters, Hannah tells her present day story and also shares with us her memories of growing up in the 1980s with both Ellen and another friend, a boy called Jago who was adopted by Hannah’s family. She remembers the day Ellen moved to their quiet Cornish village with her glamorous parents – her handsome, charismatic German father Pieter and her mother Anne, a former pianist. At first Hannah is captivated by the Brecht family but as time goes by she learns that things might not be quite as they seem. And so Hannah’s happy, nostalgic childhood memories are mixed with other, more disturbing ones that she would rather forget.
I really like the way Louise Douglas writes and the way she creates atmosphere. There are some lovely pieces of descriptive writing in this book, especially when she is writing about the area of Cornwall where Hannah, Jago and Ellen lived, but despite the beautiful, idyllic setting, there’s also a mood of darkness and foreboding that hangs over the story. We know from very early in the novel that something had happened between Hannah and Ellen that damaged their friendship and left Hannah with feelings of guilt, but we aren’t told what it was. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding Ellen’s death, what Jago’s involvement was, or why Hannah is still affected by it all so many years later. And we are kept wondering whether or not Ellen is really dead or whether her appearances are just a figment of Hannah’s imagination. As the novel progresses, the truth is gradually revealed and we can eventually start to piece the story together.
I didn’t find any of the three main characters – Hannah, Ellen and Jago – very easy to like, yet I could still have sympathy for all three of them and could care about what happened to them. They make mistakes, do the wrong things, make poor decisions and act on impulses, but their flawed, unpredictable behaviour only makes them feel more believable and human.
The construction of the novel, with the chapters alternating between Hannah’s current story and her childhood story, means that we learn a little bit more in every chapter, but some of the biggest surprises remain hidden until the very end of the book. Sometimes this type of structure can feel disjointed and confusing, but in this case I thought it worked perfectly and it helped maintain the right levels of tension and suspense throughout the book. I enjoyed In Her Shadow as much as I enjoyed The Secrets Between Us and I’ll be looking out for any future books by Louise Douglas!
I received a review copy of In Her Shadow from Transworld