Macmillan | 2021 (15 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Carter family seemed to everyone else to be living an idyllic life in their large beautiful house on the top of a hill. The two little Carter girls seemed happy as did their father, the village doctor, and mother. Then, in 1997, one of the sisters committed an unimaginable act. She murdered her parents with a pair of scissors and ten-year-old Sara is charged with their murder – the watching world is absolutely horrified – and is locked away until she was 18 while the other sister is given a new identity. Twenty years after the crime it is all now coming out as Catherine Allen watches the news and sees her sister on it talking about the murder of their parents. Their neighbour and friend all those years ago, Brinley, is now a journalist after the big story and it looks as though now she might have it. More lives than one will be altered forever as the revelations flow.
I am a huge fan of Fiona Cummins. She’s one of those writers whose books I will always read and as soon as possible. I especially loved The Neighbour and I’ve been looking forward to what would follow it. When I was Ten, another entirely stand alone thriller, was well worth the wait.
The novel tackles a subject that is not an easy one – the abuse of a child that is so severe, so calculatedly evil, that it leads to that child murdering her parents. The narrative moves backwards and forwards through time so that we witness what the sisters went through and how this pulled them together until the murder divided them forever as prison took one and a new identity claimed the other. We see what this has done to Catherine Allen, who has created a new life, knowing that now everything will change as the past is awoken and others, such as the media or a cabinet minister, begin to feed on it for their own gain. Society has judged the sisters who have kept their secrets. Can Brinley help or will she destroy them?
The thread featuring the cabinet minister is perhaps a distraction, although I did enjoy it, but the focus here is on lives destroyed and altered and, as the vultures circle, it builds into a thoroughly engrossing and compelling read as we learn more and more about the past and about the present. Fiona Cummins is a clever writer. Her stories don’t develop as you’d expect while still emotionally involving the reader in their characters. So we have the best of both worlds – an exciting psychological and crime thriller as well as an insightful and empathetic portrayal of a terrible situation that destroys lives while also inciting a judgemental society’s salacious interest.
The Neighbour was one of my top 20 books of 2019 and there is every chance that When I Was Ten will do as well in 2021. It is most certainly a powerful and haunting depiction of what happens when a child kills and what drove her to it.