The Life I Left Behind | Colette McBeth | 2015 | Headline | 376p | Review copy | Buy the book
Melody Pieterson is no longer the woman she was. Once independent and with a successful career, she is now barely able to leave her front door, relying fully on Sam, her capable fiance. Life changed six years ago when a man attacked Melody, strangled her and left her for dead. It was a miracle she was found, even more so that she survived. Melody’s next door neighbour and good friend David Alden was found guilty and imprisoned – he is now released, his time done. But now the wound is reopened. A young woman, Eve Elliot, has been the victim of an almost identical attack, except for Eve there was no happy ending – she was murdered. Alden has been re-arrested. Melody has never been able to remember the face of her attacker but now she knows she must. Helping her is DI Victoria Rutter, the detective in charge of the case. And watching over them both is Eve.
The Life I Left Behind is a powerful read, combining the twists of a whodunnit with the insight of a successful psychological thriller. If the novel simply contained the narratives of Melody and DI Rutter then it would have been entertaining enough – I thoroughly enjoyed both characters, but what makes The Life I Left Behind really stand out is that one of its dominant voices belongs to the newly-murdered woman, Eve.
Before I read the book, I did wonder how this would work but Colette McBeth pulls it off magnificently, largely because she turns Eve into a real, very likeable and hugely missed human being, not some sentimentalised victim or melodramatic ghostly presence. Eve is presented as a deeply valued daughter and friend. Her reminiscences over the events that left her dead contribute to the mystery element of the novel but the real power comes from the impact of Eve’s loss on those closest to her. I wept for Eve’s mother. What an extraordinary character. She only appears for a brief spell but her presence is overwhelming. I mourned with her. This is truly wonderful writing from Colette McBeth. The dog walkers unlucky enough to find bodies aren’t forgotten either. This is something that can never be forgotten.
Eve’s story contrasts greatly with that of Melody. These are two very different individuals, one who has had years to suffer and the other who had no time at all. Eve was a journalist who investigated miscarriages of justices. She believed David Alden was an innocent man. After Eve’s murder, her friends were determined to continue Eve’s case, prove that she was no fool, murdered, ironically, by the man she was seeking to prove innocent. They get Melody interested, DI Rutter herself begins to dig, and soon the case is once more alive, watched over by Eve, fought for by Melody.
This is beautiful writing. Three distinct and strong women move the story forwards. The tragedy and violence of events is balanced by the lightness of Eve’s voice, the determination of all to crack the case. The characterisation is strong. As well as Melody, Eve and Victoria, the figure of David Alden hangs over events. It’s a sensitive portrait.
I had my suspicions about the identity of the killer but this was neither here nor there – although the ending is extremely exciting and tense. The Life I Left Behind is the story of two women in particular, Eve and Melody. Their voices are strong, compelling us to listen. The tragedy comes from the unavoidable truth that only one of the two women survived. We all know that the cost of murder is unutterably immense but The Life I Left Behind reminds us of this in the most powerful, dramatic and emotional way.