WHAT I NEVER TOLD YOU
When Helen Whitmore’s stepson brings home a new girlfriend one evening, her already imperfect family begins to tip towards breaking point.
Diana is smart, beautiful, feisty and clearly out to cause trouble.
Then an old photograph resurfaces that threatens to uncover a long-buried secret, one that Helen has taken great care to keep hidden in the past.
Only one person could have that photograph – and she is dead.
Helen immediately suspects that Diana is connected somehow, but before she can confront her, Diana is found dead and the entire family has motive.
A graduate of the Curtis Brown creative writing school, she loves to write about the personalities hiding behind the masks we wear every day, whether beautiful or ugly.
Now a company director, what spare time Dawn has, is spent writing domestic noir fiction, chasing good intentions, contemplating how to get away with various crimes and misdemeanours, and immersing herself in fictitious worlds.
She lives in London with her husband, two daughters and a British bulldogs Geoffrey and Luna.
Keep up with all Dawn’s latest news at her website
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“This book was written when the world was a strange place. Actually, I take that back. When isn’t the world a strange place? But those oddities and eccentricities, weird stories on the news and international lockdowns plant story seeds that grow into books like this one”
“Tell your mother I saved your life.”
The words are like hailstones. Cold. Hard. Biting.
The house was winking at her. She knew it was just the sun casting a shadow over the glass, but even so, those windows had always looked like heavily lidded eyes to her. Below them a solid wooden door like a mouth, ready to breathe her in.
“Nothing good had ever happened to her here. And yet, she couldn’t pull herself away. It was her home. As simple and as complicated as that”
“These were the people who should know her best. Her daughter, her stepchildren, her husband. But of course they only knew what she had chosen to let them see. And Helen was not a huge fan of the truth”
“He is such a hypocrite, sitting there, spooning scrambled eggs into his tight mouth. His lips are so used to being pursed, I’m surprised he can get the fork in”
“This was turning out to be one hell of a day. A helluva few weeks. Not too long ago, she had been content living her less than extraordinary life with her dull husband and disconnected family. Now it felt like she had been shoved off course. Everything was tilting and she couldn’t make sense of anything anymore. She couldn’t work out who was a hero and who was a villain. – And what was she?”
“It is hard for me to see myself if those who are supposed to love me the most don’t see me either. But now it is time I do start acknowledging my strengths and recognising my weaknesses not as failure, but as potential. It is time to stop doing everything I can to get them to notice me and start doing everything I can to notice myself”
“And just like that we are talking about fictional problems in fictional worlds, where there is usually a happy ending and narrative growth for the protagonist; not sadness, solitude and more of the same as far as the eye can see”
“How well do you know your children? And how well do they know you?”
Well! The more of this book I read, the more convinced I was that I had most of the twists and turns ironed out and I knew exactly what had happened in the past, and was happening now, some thirty years later! – WRONG!
Okay! So now I need to tear up all my notes and start this review again from scratch, as those last few chapters, with all their new twists and turns, changed everything, turned all my preconceptions on their head and totally messed with my mind, as I tried to straighten out and in some way weave together, the multitude of different strands to this storyline. I do have to admit however, that I never really did work out, or even manage to guess, the complexities of this plot, which were completely driven by the desire for revenge and retribution.
Set in the picturesque, fictional village of Hamblemere, close to the very real and beautiful Cornish coastal town of Padstow, it would be very difficult for the casual observer to fathom why the house and its female descendants might not have led a happier, more fulfilled life. ‘Cliffside’ is perched, as its name suggests, right at the edge of the coastal footpath, its spacious grounds are well tended by its hired gardener, and it boasts its own outdoor pool and pool-house, complete with pool-man! However, disappointingly for any ‘armchair travellers’, very little is made of the surroundings away from the foreboding environs of the house, which is exactly as the author planned it, as she very cleverly wanted to keep me focused on the confines of events and life within its walls, without distraction.
This was no fast-paced, action packed, pot-boiling thriller. Rather more of a lugubrious, slow-burning and evolving story, which has at its heart, a monolithic, eccentric house, complete with the added burdensome caveat of a female only line of succession, who must continue to live there with their families, until that last female line is ended, when it can finally be sold. Helen has already tried to shake the dust of the house from her shoes once, after her own unhappy childhood within its forbidding walls. But now she is back, with her own daughter, a husband and step-children, who are about to unwittingly unleash the full hidden fury of the secrets the house has been hiding, despite Helen’s best efforts to forget her past and conceal the truth. Helen doesn’t play the truth game very well, as I now know to my cost, having read the story to the very last page. When someone starts to ‘dig the dirt’ on her personal life, they really do need to take heed, as she doesn’t take prisoners when it comes to protecting what is hers and saving her own skin in the process!
A dual timeline story, where neat, well-signposted chapters, which alternate between the ‘then and now’, span the thirty years since the 1980s of Helen’s youth to the present day, and where we find Helen now owning her own bookshop ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ in the village, are narrated and guided by Helen herself. So now you can see how all those half-truths and embellishments, might have clouded my judgement a little, as one new twist and turn was added after the other to try and ‘muddy the waters’ and they are oh! so convincing and plausible. Mind you, if I had endured the unconventional childhood Helen did, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to maintain my physical and emotional wellbeing and equilibrium into adulthood either. Wilful emotional abandonment and neglect, marital infidelity, drink, drugs, eating disorders, bullying, racial abuse, drink spiking – and MURDER, and that only just touches the periphery of Helen’s troubled childhood home life, she only being saved from the total abyss by the pseudo-mother efforts of the family’s live in housekeeper, Martha. Even the privileges of money alone can’t make you happy, if they come with the ultimate price-tag of being instead of, rather than as well as, the love and comfort of parental support.
This disturbing, well structured, multi-faceted storyline, was gripping, desperately intense, claustrophobic and rich in atmosphere. The fluent writing, suspenseful plot and cleverly crafted narrative, really sucked me in and immersed me in the lives of this family, who are being dragged to their knees because of their own apathy, discontent and misery. When not one, but two outsiders, decide to cash in on the family’s reduced emotional circumstances and rake up the ashes of past indiscretions, the race to the bottom begins in earnest for them all, although little do they realise how Helen is still pulling the strings and manipulating them for her own advantage. The lies, deceit, duplicity and distortion of the facts, just keep building, finally overwhelming them to the point where there is only one person left standing, who has ensured that the line of succession is going to continue unchallenged into the foreseeable future.
Dawn has created a wonderful cast of complex, emotionally starved, wickedly clever and genuinely twisted characters; who although well developed and fleshed out, are not authentic or reliable, are manipulative and duplicitous in the extreme and have little or no synergy between them, giving me no compelling reason to relate to, invest in, or engage with them. The only certainty in this complex jigsaw of human emotions, was that their own volatility and unreliability, would be their eventual downfall.
I always enjoy Dawn’s wonderfully twisted style of storytelling, but she has surpassed herself this time!
“Oh, What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
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 5 out of 5 stars!