An unsolved murder. A missing child. A lifetime of deception. In 1977, pregnant Genevieve Russell disappeared. Twenty years later, her remains are discovered and Timothy Gleason is charged with murder. But there is no sign of the unborn child. CeeCee Wilkes knows how Genevieve Russell died, because she was there. And she also knows what happened to the missing infant, because two decades ago she made the devastating choice to raise the baby as her own. Now Timothy Gleason is facing the death penalty, and she has another choice to make. Tell the truth and destroy her family. Or let an innocent man die to protect a lifetime of lies…
The book begins when CeeCee is just 16-years-old. Having lost her mother to breast cancer when she was twelve and with no other family, she has grown up unloved and alone in foster homes. It becomes clear quickly that CeeCee is desperate for love, and when Tim Gleason comes along you can almost feel the adoration she has for him yourself. His manipulation of CeeCee is so subtle and believable that it’s easy to see how she becomes involved in such a horrific situation.
By rights, as a mother, I should hate CeeCee for the decisions she makes, but I just couldn’t. She is written with such depth and feeling I found it impossible to. Diane Chamberlain portrays a grieving, lonely and vulnerable girl so beautifully and realistically that it’s only sympathy I felt towards her as she is swept into a situation that sees her fleeing a crime with a baby that isn’t hers.
There are a host of other brilliantly drawn characters throughout the book. Jack, CeeCee’s husband in the future, is lively and jumps of the page, capturing my heart with his devotion and gentle kindness. Marion, saviour to CeeCee and surrogate mother when she really needs one, provides a stable, reliable and down to earth character who is both wise and strong. I loved Marion’s strength and compassion for CeeCee and was glad that she had found her. The authors skilful way of turning the tables on what at first seems simply right and wrong means that the people who should gain my sympathy end up being the ones I liked the least. I found each and everyone believable, and felt the author created them perfectly, with complexities flaws that made them absolutely human.
I also really liked the style with which Chamberlain narrates this book. It’s written in the third person, although mainly focusing on CeeCee and later her daughter, Cory. Despite being a quite lengthy 530 pages, the chapters are kept really short, sometimes just a couple of pages. As the book spans almost 30 years, I found the short, sharp chapters really kept the story flowing quickly, and didn’t get bogged down in over detail. This had me racing through the pages as quickly as I could, never getting bored and skimming, and also meant that I was always near a good point to take a break. The author uses a lot of dialogue throughout the book, and as the characters are so well drawn, it worked very well and really brought them to life.
Each chapter of the first third of the book begins with an extract from letters written to CeeCee by her mother when she knew she dying. Her aim was for CeeCee to open them at certain points in her life, and for her mother to offer support and guidance when CeeCee may need it after her death. As events unfold, the letters become somewhat ironic, as it seems a young and naïve CeeCee misinterprets the advice and heads towards catastrophe. They were all the more poignant, as I could read the message that was intended and also understand how in her vulnerability CeeCee uses the advice offered unwisely. These were very touching and made me feel all the more empathetic and sad for CeeCee.
It may seem as if I have given a lot of the plot away here, but I’d just like to assure you that I’ve revealed nothing more than what is found on the back of the book or within the first few pages. This isn’t a murder mystery, crime or suspense novel. Diane Chamberlain has been compared to Jodi Picoult, and I can see why, as she writes about circumstances that can make you question your morals and beliefs, and has you rethinking what is actually right and wrong. However I would go as far to say that I enjoyed this author more. I found her writing compelling and consistently engaging. I never felt bored or bogged down in detail and felt incredibly moved by the whole book. This is one that will have you thinking long after you close the pages. My best read of the year so far, I can’t wait to pick up Diane Chamberlains newest book, The Bay At Midnight.