The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth is a standalone thriller narrated by three women: one who is dead, one who nearly died, and one who is the cop trying to solve it all (available February 24, 2015).
Friendships are a tricky business. Especially when that sweet guy next door, the one who introduced you to new music and drank wine with you on long summer nights in London, tried to kill you. These are the kind of so-called “friends” that populate Colette McBeth’s second novel, The Life I Left Behind. If you’re thinking, “no thanks, I prefer my chums to be of the everlasting BFF variety,” this isn’t the book for you (and neither is McBeth’s debut, Precious Thing, where a childhood friendship is put under the microscope and its grimy, murderous underbelly is exposed). Told in alternating perspectives—a dead woman, a nearly dead woman, and the cop who’s trying to piece it all together—the novel is both a whodunit and a why-dunit. Aren’t the latter infinitely more interesting, anyway? Especially when the suspect pool becomes whittled down to—you guessed it—a close-knit group of friends. Though is that really what you call a group of people who may or may not have killed a mutual acquaintance? What’s the proper collective noun in this instance?
Six years before The Life I Left Behind begins, Melody Pieterson was attacked and left for dead in a London park after a night out drinking with friends. It’s only the chance sighting by a man out walking his dog that saves her life. Though she has no memory of the attack, the police, thanks in part to the UK’s ubiquitous CCTV system, build a case against David Alden, an up-and-coming DJ who happens to be Melody’s friend and next-door neighbor. Since Melody isn’t dead—remember, she’s the nearly dead woman, not the dead one—David is convicted of GBH (grievous bodily harm for those of you not up to speed on UK legal lingo) and sent off to prison. Fast forward six years to David’s release—remember, this isn’t America—and Melody’s life is nearly unrecognizable. No longer a high-powered PR executive, she’s now a virtual recluse in the Surrey home she shares with new fiancé, Sam. The attack left an indelible imprint on every aspect of her life:
She could recover from her physical injuries but the knowledge that it was someone she’d trusted corroded her insides like acid. When she picked over their friendship, searching for a damning clue or a sign that would have pointed her toward this, she couldn’t find a single one. But the police had shown her the evidence and it was compelling. Her monumental failure of judgment undermined everything that had gone before. Everything she had taken for granted, all the absolutes in her life disintegrated. She couldn’t trust her own thoughts. When forced to make even the smallest decision—fruit salad or crumble? walk or a swim?—she found herself paralyzed. “You choose,” she would say to whoever happened to be with her, because this one single thing, the knowledge that David Alden had attacked her, almost killed her, had overridden every natural instinct and reflex she had.
Enter Eve Elliot, freelance investigative journalist who’s working on a story about a man falsely convicted of assault. Can you guess the identity of the man? Gold star if you guessed David Alden. But then Eve turns up dead and the scene of the crime is an exact replica, with the addition of a corpse, of Melody’s six years earlier: same park, same trinket found with the victim. David Alden is, of course, the prime (and only) suspect. Eve narrates her sections from beyond the grave so if you’re hoping for a happy ending for her, prepare to be disappointed. Yet she’s very aware of her state of, well, deadness:
I have the dog to thank. If it wasn’t for him I might still be there and none of this would have happened. Strange, you might say, given that the place teems with life. But it’s a hurried life that doesn’t veer off its chosen track: cyclists in streaks of neon, joggers chasing personal bests, harried parents tailing their offspring. Not a chance they would have spotted me, twenty or so metres away, hidden in dense woodland. I was easy to miss, which was the point after all.
Eve wants justice not only for herself, but also for Melody, whom she knows can’t move forward with her life until she confronts the truth of what really happened that night in park.
Pulling the victims’ stories together is no-nonsense Detective Inspector Victoria Rutter. As a young cop just following orders, evidence she gathered helped convict David Alden six years earlier, and as much as she’d like to believe in the sanctity of the police, Rutter suspects early on in the Elliot investigation that they put away the wrong man for Melody’s assault. Without Rutter’s agency, the story couldn’t move: dead Eve can’t actually make anything happen and Melody initially refuses to discuss the attack, let alone leave her house with its state-of-the-art security system. It’s Rutter, with all her power as an officer of the law, who’s out pounding the pavement, chasing down leads, and making suspects sweat in the interrogation room. McBeth makes it clear from the start that Alden isn’t the killer but beyond that, the murderer’s identity is up for grabs. After reading this, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate those special people in your life. You don’t want any killers lurking on your Facebook page, right?
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Jordan Foster grew up in a mystery bookstore in Portland, Oregon. She has a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia University, which she’s slowly paying off as the managing editor for BookTrib.com and by writing about crime fiction for Publishers Weekly. She’s back in Portland, where it’s nice and rainy and there are endless places to stash bodies. She tweets @jordanfoster13.
Read all of Jordan Foster’s posts for Criminal Element.