It’s 1984 and British families and communities are being torn apart by a miners’ strike. While miners clash with the police and tensions grow between the government and the mining unions, in the small Yorkshire town of Matlow Annie Howarth is facing trouble of a different kind. Her former boyfriend, Tom Greenaway, has just been released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence for manslaughter. Meeting Tom again after such a long separation, Annie finds that she still has feelings for him – and that she’s not at all convinced he was guilty of the crime of which he was accused.
A lot of things have changed during those years apart, though. Annie is now married to police chief William Howarth and they have a young daughter, Lizzie. Leaving William for Tom could mean losing Lizzie, as well as the expensive house and comfortable lifestyle William’s salary provides. When a woman is murdered on the moors near the Howarths’ home, suspicion falls on Tom again and this time Annie must try to separate the truth from the ‘beautiful lies’.
This is the third Louise Douglas novel I’ve read and while I didn’t love it as much as The Secrets Between Us or In Her Shadow, I still enjoyed it. The backdrop of the miners’ strike is not a setting that I’ve seen used in fiction very often and yet it was a hugely important time in British history from both a social and political perspective. By making Annie’s husband a policeman and her father a miner, the author shows how loyalties were divided not just within towns and villages but within families too.
The story also has a strong mystery element, with the police investigating the murder on the moors and the question of who Annie can and can’t trust, but this is where I thought the book was less successful in comparison with The Secrets Between Us and In Her Shadow. It’s a very atmospheric novel (the bleakness and claustrophobia of Annie’s life is perfectly portrayed) but I found it less suspenseful than the previous two books and had my suspicions as to the likely identity of the murderer long before the answer was revealed. The ending was not entirely surprising, but very abrupt and not entirely satisfying either!
I didn’t like Annie very much – it seemed to me that she was being unnecessarily reckless and irresponsible – but I did think Douglas did a good job of depicting the boredom and loneliness of her daily existence and the reasons why her marriage to William was not a happy one. Because we see everything through Annie’s eyes, however, we can never be sure that we’re getting a fair and balanced picture of either of the men in her life. I think the only characters I did actually like were Annie’s brother, Johnnie, who remains cheerful and optimistic despite having some terrible things happen to him over the course of the novel, and William’s mother, Ethel, struggling with dementia but still aware that something isn’t quite right in the Howarth household.
I’ve been very impressed with all three of the Louise Douglas books that I’ve read, despite the few problems I had with this one. They are difficult to classify as belonging to a particular genre, being a mixture of crime, romance, suspense and domestic drama, but it’s a mixture that I love and that’s why I’m already looking forward to her next book, whatever that may be!
I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.