My thanks go out to Helen, representing Helen Richardson PR, for saving me a place on this lovely ‘Blog Tour’ schedule.
I also need to thank the great NetGalley team, for always making life so easy when downloading review copies.
I lean in and whisper the question I have never let myself utter in twenty-three years – ‘Dad…did you murder Mum?’
Hannah Davidson has a dementia-stricken father, an estranged TV star brother, and a mother whose death opened up hidden fault lines beneath the surface of their ordinary family life.
Hannah is losing her grip on both her drinking and a cache of shameful secrets.
Now the spitting image of her mother Jen Davidson and exactly the same age she was when she died, Hannah is determined to uncover exactly what happened to her mum twenty-three years ago, but the boundaries between mother and daughter soon become fatally blurred.
LIZ WEBB – (Photo Credit – Ben Wilkin)
Liz had done a ton of different jobs since leaving school, from classical dancing to temporary secretary, all the while attending night classes to achieve her goal of getting into university, which she did age 23.
After attaining an English Degree and still with no real idea of what to do with it, she returned to a life of temporary jobs, from cocktail waitress to stand-up comedy and voice over artist.
She then began freelance script reading and eventually got a job at the BBC as an assistant script editor in Radio Drama, working her way up to Producer. She then admitted to herself, what she had probably known all along, she really wanted to stop producing other people’s work and write her own. She took the plunge and completed a six month novel writing course at the Faber Academy, followed by a short online writing course and NaNoWriMo 2019. Coronavirus was the ‘now or never’ time to complete her book. The Daughter is Liz’s debut novel
Visit with Liz at her website
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“I was in the middle of writing a novel set in a house that backed onto Highgate Woods and had just seen one come up on a local Estate Agent’s site. The photos, description and floor plan were useful, but I wanted to get in there and walk around in it, to breathe in the atmosphere and see just how close these houses really were to the woods. So I lied blatantly and set up my fake viewing.
It was breath-taking what a consummate liar I was. That morning, I morphed into a woman with money to burn, entranced by original features, inspired by nature. But it was really useful for my writing to experience that easy lying. In my novel, many people are lying to my heroine Hannah. Yet no one is a monster – they are all normal people who have lied to make life easier, to protect others, to protect themselves.
Some tiny part of my blackened duplicitous soul did feel bad about my lying. And I really hope that that lovely estate agent did eventually sell that house for a huge profit and she got some kind of positive karmic reward from the universe to balance out my artifice.
But a big part of me didn’t feel that bad about the lying – because the house was so unnervingly perfect for my novel. I’m not a believer in anything that I can’t prove as cold hard fact – but it felt like it was ‘meant’ that I should visit that specific house. It was a three storey Edwardian house with timber features and a raised porch, backing onto Highgate Woods – just like in my book. It had clearly been owned for a long time by someone who had grown old in it and not carried out any renovations – just like in my book. And the chipped French doors of the lounge led straight onto the small garden which abutted the tall woods so closely that the sinister trees almost touched the house – just like in my book.
As I wandered round that wonderful dusty old house, I felt like I was Hannah coming home and I returned from my trip enthused to finish my novel”
Normal people don’t eat raw quince. But I sink my teeth into the smooth skin of a fat yellow specimen, and the astringency of the hard pulp floods my mouth, making me grimace. I plucked this one from the tree in Dad’s front garden at around 2am last night, as I followed his stretcher to the ambulance. It’s been touch and go, but Dad’s stable this morning, dozing in his high, precisely made hospital bed. The view’s spectacular up here on the ninth floor of University College Hospital, but Dad’s oblivious. I lean my forehead on the big wrap-around corner window and fog it with a wet circle of quince spittle.
“I was endlessly tortured on the rack of my family – on one end was my destroyed dad who I knew was innocent, and on the other, my belligerent brother, vehement that dad was guilty. With one person I loved murdered and the other two people I loved hating each other, it became excruciating to think, to feel, to even function. I was a seriously fucked-up Goldilocks: Mother Bear was dead and Baby Bear hated Daddy Bear – nothing could feel ‘just right’ ever again”
“Over the years, whenever I asked how he was doing, he would nod then smile with his mouth, but his eyes were those of an animal that had been run over, its broken body and its useless legs twitching behind it. Pain is pain whatever your age and sex, but there is a particular agony when an older man loses his position, his goals, the respect of his peers – a raw bruising marinated in testosterone”
“How can I use my thoughts to think about whether I’m being rational, if my thoughts are themselves irrational?”
“Actual confrontation is never the same as imagined confrontation”
“Everyone else has had power over me with their dirty little secrets. Now I have secrets and will hug them to me till I decide how best to use them for full devastating effect”
“Families can be murder”
Yep! This was just what the ‘book doctor’ ordered. A thumping good psychological thriller, which I whizzed through in a couple of days. A relatively small cast of characters and physical footprint, and a suspect list which had just about everyone’s name on it at one time or another! The plot is really quite straightforward, however the outcome and the getting there, were a whole different ballgame and I really did need my wits about me to keep up with main protagonist Hannah’s, often rambling train of thought.
Thirty-seven year old Hannah, has returned to her childhood home, ostensibly to care for her dementia and terminal cancer sufferer father Philip, who lives alone and has been hospitalised following a bad fall inside the house. However Hannah, who although she is genuinely concerned for her father’s welfare, also has other more selfish motives for packing up her life in Brighton and moving back to her old childhood stamping ground, although it was still not an easy decision. Her mother, Jennifer died in the woods behind the house, when she was only fourteen and her older brother Reece eighteen and on the eve of going off to university. Jennifer’s death was at first treated as suicide, but later Philip was, for a short period, under investigation and suspected of her murder. Although nothing was ever proved conclusively, the family was left fractured and Philip a broken man. Reece AKA Ryan, is now a successful actor and has been estranged from his family since the fateful night of his mother’s death, which had left a teenaged Hannah feeling alone and abandoned, although her father had done his very best to cope with his daughter’s emotional and physical needs.
Now, Hannah needs her father to answer a question which has plagued her every waking hour since that life-changing night. However Philip’s mind is so far disconnected from reality, that to know whether his memories of what really happened are reliable or accurate is almost impossible. In some of his more lucid moments though, Hannah begins to get the idea that not everything about her mother’s death and indeed her rather unconventional life, was quite as straightforward as she had thought, so when Philip is brought home to end his days and strange things begin to happen around the house, she decides that discovering the ultimate truth of those long ago events, which seem to be casting a long and very present shadow over her final few hours with Philip, is more important to her than she had ever believed possible.
She elicits the help of the original detective who was assigned to investigate her mother’s death, even though Chris has since been invalided out of the police force. The suspects begin to line up in Hannah’s very fractured mind, beginning with Reece, who is less than pleased to have been contacted by his errant sister. The net widens to include the next door neighbours and their son, who were like a second family to Hannah and Reece when they were growing up, with the two sets of parents ostensibly being firm and lasting friends. A wider sweep encompasses the photographer for whom Jennifer worked and who is still trading.
Hannah has no idea of the hornets nest she will be stirring up when she begins asking questions and her emotions are set to take another huge battering when she discovers that her mother was not the plaster saint she had built her up to be, when just about everything around Jennifer’s life was a lie, even though Hannah and Reece appear to have such differing memories of the same events. As Hannah’s life and grip on reality tumbles further and further out of control, her father’s subsequent death, even though it is upsetting, somehow polarises her thoughts and inner reserves of strength, making her even more determined that closure for herself and the clearing of her parents’ reputations, is her number one focus. However, she does woefully underestimate the vile hatred and loathing of her nemesis, and as she has her eyes set firmly on completely the wrong people, she almost loses her own life in calling them to account and bringing about personal retribution and justice.
This well structured, multi-layered, gripping and intense storyline, wasn’t going to rock the world in the ‘action packed’ stakes, however the pace was steady enough to keep me guessing right until the end and the cloying air of suspicion with which Hannah cloaked everyone on her suspect list, made for an oppressively tense atmosphere. When writing, how author Liz Webb managed to keep a track of who was doing what to whom, how, where, why and when, was a complete mystery to me, as my poor little brain was constantly fuddled and tied up in knots. The lies, duplicity, double standards, and all those dirty little secrets, were so widespread and attributed to so many different individuals, all with their own agendas, that melding them together into such a highly textured and cohesive storyline, was wickedly clever, slick and polished, and pulled off to perfection. The physical footprint of the story was quite small, however the fluently written narrative and dialogue was crisp and visually descriptive, affording a real sense of time and place. The twists and double twists in the storyline just kept coming, right until the final scene and I simply couldn’t avoid being tripped up by the many red herrings spread along the way to put me off the scent. Whilst my own suspect list did include one more name than Hannah’s own, which really was an important factor when it came to the endgame, I couldn’t conclusively have pointed the finger of accusation at any one individual until that time.
Liz also did a great job of exploring and examining family relationships and the emotional impact certain traumatic events, experienced and witnessed in childhood, can continue to have in adult years, without anyone really realising. In Hannah this hidden damage manifests itself openly and overtly and it is easy to observe the fragility and frailty of her troubled mind. However Reece plays his cards much closer to his chest, which can make him appear cold, calculating and very difficult to connect with. Altogether, a well defined cast of characters, some of whom were more fully developed than others, none of whom were particularly compelling, but all of whom played their parts to perfection.
I would never have pegged this book as a debut novel and I look forward to following Liz Webb’s writing, hoping she already has another gripping storyline in the pipeline!
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Allison and Busby and supplied by NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
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