Review – The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

By | January 15, 2015

Five years ago Melody Pieterson was attacked and left for dead.

She coped by burying the person she was, locking away her memories and creating a new life for herself. Her attacker is behind bars. In four weeks’ time she will get married. She’s almost normal.

Then the body of another woman is found, close to where Melody was discovered. Like her she has blond hair and green eyes. Like Melody police find a gold bird cage necklace at the scene. And Melody realises her attacker has been out there all along.

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth was published for kindle by Headline on 1 January: the hardcover will be published by Minotaur Books on 24 February, with the paperback to follow in August from Headline Review. 

Colette McBeth made quite a splash with her first novel, Precious Thing, a roller coaster of a read with so many twists and turns that it almost made you dizzy. Here’s a link to my review of that highly accomplished thriller – if you’re a fan of what people now seem to be calling “domestic noir”, this is one you really shouldn’t miss. So, now we have the second novel: does it live up to the promise of the first?

The story is told from the viewpoints of three separate women. Melody has been profoundly changed by her attack five years earlier – formerly a wearer of scarlet lipstick with a vibrant social life, she now lives behind a high fence in an ultra-modern home in the middle of nowhere with her soon-to-be-husband Sam, buying goods on the shopping channel, only leaving the house to run with her personal trainer. Then there’s Victoria Rutter – a very conscientious Detective Inspector, a lowly constable at the time of Melody’s attack, whose discovery of CCTV evidence brought about a conviction. She is absolutely determined that she will not jump to conclusions on the second attack, and sacrifices her family life to ensure that all the evidence is properly considered. And then there’s Eve – Eve is dead. 

The characterisation is excellent – which might seem a slightly strange statement when one of the narrators is dead, but the way in which the story is told really enables the reader to stand back from the story and draw their own conclusions. Much of the story is told in flashback – Eve is an absorbing character, forensic in her research of the evidence from Melody’s attack, chaotic in her personal life, eminently likeable. Telling the story from her viewpoint, after her death, really works well.

I loved DI Rutter too – the glimpses of her home life which she has to neglect to do her job well, her interactions with her soon-to-retire senior officer, her taste for vending machine coffee while at work, her personal conviction that she has to get things right.  The lesser characters were excellent too – David (convicted for the first attack), Melody’s partner Sam, Eve’s friend Nat.

When reading a thriller like this, you can’t help trying to second guess the outcome. I was thoroughly convinced from halfway through the book that I’d worked it out – but my view changed half a dozen times before the book’s climax. I must admit that the first half of the book didn’t grip me as much as the second – I found the different viewpoints a little confusing, but partly put that down to the formatting of the ARC that I read, partly to the fact that I read it in short bursts. I read the second half in one sitting, and found it impossible to put down until the last page. I’ll be honest – I think I enjoyed Precious Thing a little better. But there’s nothing of the “difficult second novel” about this one – Colette McBeth is a very accomplished story teller, and this book won’t disappoint anyone who likes to be kept awake until the early hours to read just one more page. Looking forward to her next one already. 

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Headline Review for my advance reading e-copy.

Colette McBeth had the idea for her first novel Precious Thing in 1998. Instead of writing it she went to work for the BBC where she spent 10 years as TV reporter. In 2011 she enrolled on the Faber Academy Novel Writing course and completed Precious Thing in 2012. She lives in West London with her husband and three children.