I Let You Go begins with the death of a child, a five-year-old boy, run over crossing the street in front of his warmly-lit, welcoming house not long before Christmas. The mother let go of Jacob’s hand for an instant, just to push hair behind her ears. It was enough. A driver hit her boy and then drove away, leaving them in the road. And now she must deal with loss compounded by guilt for that instant, a moment she relives time after time after time.
That instant in time changed the life of Jenna Gray forever. Unable to cope, she walks away, moving to a quiet holiday cottage on the Welsh coast, a place untouched by tourism during the winter months. She makes no effort to rebuild her life, merely learning how to exist one day at a time, but soon the lives of others begin to touch her own, allowing her a glimpse of a future. But the past will not let Jenna Gray go.
I am generally not a reader of psychological thrillers (I thought Gone Girl might have put me off for good) but when friends began to rave about I Let You Go, all astonished by its unguessable twist and the brilliance of the writing, I knew I must read it next. I should also mention that I am a Twitter friend of its author Clare Mackintosh and was so proud to go to the book launch and buy a signed copy. So all well and good, except for it being of a genre I have been quite reluctant to read. But I have discovered that there are a few things at least that make I Let You Go a must-read. Firstly, Clare knows what she’s writing about – she was both a police officer and later a member of CID. Secondly, she has known great loss in her own life. Thirdly, Clare writes beautifully. She doesn’t just handle the intricate plot well, she also brings alive these landscapes, especially the seashore and cliffs of the Welsh coast. I cared so much for the novel’s characters, those in Wales and the police officers in Bristol who have been touched deeply by this case and are determined not to let it go. As for Jenna… what a portrait this is. Masterful. Extraordinary.
The story is divided into first person and third person narratives. We experience Jenna’s story through her own eyes but the police investigation is told by our knowledgeable narrator. This means that we are given a wider view of the case but it doesn’t stop us getting close to Ray, the DI, and Kate, his detective who is new to the job. But it’s not just these two we get to know – we spend time with the whole department as well as moving into Ray’s home, witnessing first hand the impact that investigating such a traumatic case as this, the death of a child, can have on police families.
I Let You Go is not an easy novel to review and so I have been purposefully sketchy and vague. I will say no more about its plot. It relies on the reader following it closely, listening out for clues, sinking in to the marvellously rich and stark and beautiful landscape, becoming close to the trauma of Jacob’s death, and so much more that I will not mention here. So without telling you much about it I can only urge you to read it!
I Let You Go contains a twist that beats most that I’ve encountered in the past and, rather unusually, I didn’t guess it. But I soon realised that I Let You Go is much, much more than a psychological thriller with a twist. It’s hard to believe that it is a debut novel – Clare Mackinstosh is a supremely confident writer, sparing in her words, making the best use of each. It’s not often I read a novel in one day but I did just that with I Let You Go. I was caught hook, line and sinker! It also made me want to read other psychological novels – quite a feat, I can tell you, although now I fear disappointment by comparison. This might be one of the last novels I’ll read in 2014 but it’s one of my favourites of the year for sure.