WHEN WE WERE YOUNG
Uni friends Stacey, Paula, Bev and Valentina used to be inseparable until one weekend before graduation when nothing was ever the same again.
Thirty years later, reunited at Valentina’s funeral, Stacey receives a letter written by her late friend asking for one last wish… that the three friends go back to where things fell apart and finally bury the hatchet.
As they revisit their old haunts of their uni days and follow a series of clues left by Valentina, their friend’s death begins to look suspicious and it is up to them to find out what happened – but they all have secrets to hide.
They say good friends are hard to come by, but when there is so much at stake and someone is lurking in the shadows, how do you know who is a friend and who is a foe?
Dawn Goodwin’s career has spanned PR, advertising and publishing, both in London and Johannesburg.
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.
CHAPTER ONE – PRESENT DAY
“It was supposed to rain at funerals. Like it did on the television, everyone clad in black, weeping and wailing into a hole in the ground, the sky as sombre as the outfits”
“At least that’s what Stacey Maxwell had thought”
“Once, she had thought that being surrounded by people was the most important thing in the world. Now she knew solitude was safer”
“Today had been a day for old wounds to itch, but scratching would only leave a scar”
“She knew what she had done, had managed to squash the guilt into a tiny box and put it high on a mental shelf, but the box had fallen off the shelf and the guilt was seeping out”
“They are all the same, are men. Their eyes are always bigger than their brains. It’s all about the chase, the game”
“Four best friends. One of them is dead. Are their secrets safe?”
This is one of those books, which definitely underpins my assertion that rating, and reviewing books are really very subjective processes, as storylines mean different things to different people and evoke similarly diverse emotions and reactions. I was so undecided about just where on the spectrum my true feelings lay, but all things considered 4 stars seemed a fair and true reflection of my thoughts.
So first of all, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the storyline…
Which opens in present day Northumberland, with three middle-aged women preparing to attend the funeral of a fourth, who they knew back in their university days. In fact they are the only attendees at a very orchestrated event, which appears to have been organised and specified in great detail, by the deceased person herself. Paula, Bev and Stacey were childhood friends and still only a very short distance separates them physically, although that might as well be a million miles, as they have neither met up, nor spoken to one another, in the last thirty years.
Valentina, the deceased, had shared a student let with the others for their final and what turned out to be, very tumultuous university year. It was Bev who had interviewed Valentina and agreed that she could take the empty room, however when they were together, it had always been Stacey who was the strongest and most forthright of the three childhood friends, so it was towards her that a seemingly very vulnerable Valentina had gravitated when she moved in. It is therefore no surprise that after all this time, it is now a very spooked Stacey who begins to receive messages and packages from Valentina, in which she indicates that Paula, Bev and Stacey, should investigate the circumstances of her death, although none of them had parted on the best of terms with her, leaving Stacey to wonder what is behind the sudden plea for help and hand of reconciliation, being offered from beyond the grave.
How simple life must have seemed for Bev, Stacey and Paula back in 1992, their pick of the boys, partying the night away, drinking in seedy pubs and clubs, and maybe the odd spot of course work and exam revision when it was pressed upon them. In fact, their extreme and maybe rather naive lifestyle, may have been the catalyst and trigger for everything that happened in that fateful graduation year, particularly the behaviour of a rather promiscuous Stacey. Into their lives bursts Valentina, needy, demanding, pushy and desperately wanting to be accepted as one of the group. The terrible threesome soon works out that much of Valentina’s childhood as she describes it, is fabricated, embellished and often downright lies. Yes, there is no doubt that her father is very wealthy and throws money at his daughter for a quiet, easy life, but the adoration he so-say has for her, is all in her troubled mind and vivid imagination. In trying too hard to fit in, Valentina only succeeds in making the others close ranks against her, tipping her unbearable sadness into an uncontrollable rage and anger, which can only be satisfied by payback and revenge.
As time moved on towards their final exams, events which had spiralled further and further out of control, were only ever going to end one way, although not one of them could have guessed the scale of the impending disaster and the life-changing consequences of what its implications might be. Valentina had made a discovery about a couple of the boys who shared a neighbouring apartment, which in a moment of genuine friendship, worried her enough to want to warn her flatmates and seek their help in outing these sexual predators. However, given her past record for being less than truthful and well-meaning, and as she and Stacey have become embroiled in a very vitriolic and jealous game involving one of the men, she might have cried ‘wolf’ just once too often, as her accusations were treated with disdain. The red mist descended for Valentina, and she vowed to expose the men for what they were, very publicly and in full view of a stunned Stacey. However, Valentina hadn’t quite got the details of her plan right and it spectacularly backfired on her, placing all four women in danger when they were chased into a wooded area. Now they were prepared to hear Valentina out and they quickly realised the truth of her accusations – but what to do about it, especially as their hunter was closing in on them…
When the academic year mercifully ended and the four girls were free to go their separate ways, they vowed never to contact one another again, in a bid to both maintain their individual sanity and protect their perceived innocence of any wrongdoing, should events from that fateful evening resurface and be investigated.
Those dark and long-ago events have definitely shaped the path of happiness and re-defined the dreams of the three estranged ‘besties’, although it hasn’t been for the better! Having been rebuffed by her choice of partner, Paula had gone on to marry Sue, a romance seemingly made in heaven but more like a living hell for Paula, who was hiding her mental and physical abuse behind Sue’s cleverly positioned shield of gaslighting and coercive control. Bev it would appear, has the perfect domestic idyll, homemaker to a devoted husband and two adoring children, however the cracks in her life are spreading and beginning to show, so badly that at any moment her world might implode and shatter into a million pieces. Stacey, always the strongest, most ebullient and determined to get things done her way, has gone literally to pieces, overweight, verging on alcoholism, her short marriage in tatters, living and working on the edge of existence, with only her cat and the bottom of a bottle for company. Guilt, fear, and shame, still dominate and control the nightmares which the three girls have never been able to shake off and which now still dominate their adult lives, meaning that none of them has ever reached their full potential, leaving them to tread water without a lifejacket.
Now Valentina has forced their hand, sending them in a direction and on a journey which none of them want to make and which it seems certain will probably not end well, just as it hadn’t all those years ago. Just how badly wrong things are going to go, they have no way of knowing and what will ultimately be asked of them before closure can even begin, may break them rather than heal.
Author Dawn Goodwin certainly has a penchant for these strong and fluent, easy to navigate, dual timeline stories, often with the additional voice of a watchful, yet unseen, third party. Her plots are never fast-paced, action packed, pot-boiling thrillers. She would appear to luxuriate in the rather more lugubrious, slow-burning and tantalisingly evolving storyline. On its own, this wasn’t a particularly complex plot, however the many added layers, which were peeled back intermittently, really ramped up the suspense level giving it great depth and staying power. I had worked out the identity of the stalking interloper within the space of a couple of chapters (or at least I hoped I had!), however those last couple of twists right towards the end, definitely caught me unawares and left me with my mouth hanging open.
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. They are manipulative and duplicitous in the extreme, which gave 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, however it still almost made me feel sad to witness the struggles they all went through in their later lives, which were so entwined with that single life-changing event they had experienced as teenagers, especially Valentina who never really understood or could cope with the realisation that even the privileges of money alone couldn’t make her happy, coming as they did with the ultimate price-tag of being instead of, rather than as well as, the love and comfort of genuinely meant support from friends and family, especially in her real hour of need.
There are glimmers of some happy endings to be found, although they may still be fragile and a little raw, but time is a great healer, or so they say. However, for some, there is no time for new beginnings. Theirs will forever be the silent voices.
This home-grown suspense story, whilst having a small physical footprint in the Northumberland area, is very textured and atmospheric, wonderfully described and full of detail, so I would in no way call this a wasted journey for any confirmed ‘armchair travellers’ who would like to come along for the ride.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses, so I recommend that you read When We Were Young for yourself and see where your journey leads you!
A complimentary kindle download of this book was made available for review by publishers Head of Zeus and facilitated 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!
Thank you so much for taking time to read my review, I appreciate your support.