It’s not very often that I get the time or opportunity to revisit earlier reviews, but I’m having a quiet week and couldn’t help noticing that Sewing The Shadows Together, the first novel by Alison Baillie, has been republished as an e-book and in paperback. This time the publisher is Bloodhound Books, and they’ve added a rather perfect new cover. I remembered how very much I enjoyed this book when I reviewed it back in 2016, and reread my review – and decided it might be rather good to share it again. Let’s take a closer look at the book…
Do we ever really know the people closest to us?
More than thirty years after thirteen-year-old Shona McIver was raped and murdered in Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh, the crime still casts a shadow over the lives of her brother Tom and her best friend Sarah.
When modern DNA evidence reveals that the wrong man was convicted of the crime, the case is reopened. So who did kill Shona?
Soon Sarah and Tom find themselves caught up in the search for Shona’s murderer, and everyone is a suspect.
The foundations of Sarah’s perfect family life begin to crumble as she realises that nothing is as it appears.
Dark secrets from the past are about to emerge, but can they uncover the truth before the killer strikes again?
Alison Baillie is the author of the acclaimed psychological mystery thriller, A Fractured Winter. Sewing The Shadows Together is a suspenseful thriller which will appeal to fans of authors like Theresa Driscoll, LJ Ross and Jane Holland.
And here, for the second time, is my review…
The first thing that really impressed was the strong sense of place – Edinburgh isn’t familiar to me, but it really came vividly to life as the characters moved around its areas and suburbs. The Outer Hebrides too – beautifully described, easily pictured with its desolate beauty and small tight-knit communities. And South Africa too – I’ve been to Plettenberg Bay and driven the Garden Route, and the backdrop for that part of the story is perfectly described.
The story is excellent, with its threads in the past and present so deftly plotted and drawn together. There’s the 1976 story of Shona’s murder and the appalling miscarriage of justice that saw the one boy who didn’t fit in accused, convicted, imprisoned and ignored. When the case is reopened, it not only reopens the wounds of those who loved her, but begins a search for the real murderer – and exposes some of the many lies and secrets withheld at the time, with the finger of suspicion hovering over many.
In the present day, we have Tom and Sarah. Tom was Shona’s brother, moved with his family to South Africa shortly after the murder to escape its ongoing impact, now returned to scatter his mother’s ashes in Eriskay and picking up old Edinburgh friendships and acquaintances. Sarah was Shona’s best friend – always attracted to Tom, but now married to larger-than-life TV personality Rory, with two grown-up children who have lives of their own, a social climbing and sharp tongued mother and an inescapable commitment to bring the family together over lunch each Sunday.
The author draws superb characters. Both Tom and Sarah won my heart, but some of the lesser characters were equally well done. Sarah’s mother Flora is really wonderfully awful, totally self-centred and insensitive, and completely real: Sarah’s children are equally well rounded, leading their own threads, making the story so much more than a murder mystery. The police characters – although not central to the story – are well drawn, HJ Kidd a constant fascination, Sarah’s “friend” Patsy an irritation whenever she appears, and there’s even a newspaper hack who’s depicted a great deal more kindly than his kind usually are.
This book has a bit of everything – it’s the very best of murder mysteries, a very affecting love story, a family drama with considerable complications, part social history, part travelogue, and a journey of personal discovery. It’s also a really compelling read – a real page-turner, whether to find out the secrets of family and friends or to discover the truth about what happened in the long hot summer of 1976.
Quite perfectly paced, the writing is really excellent – I’ve mentioned the settings, but the dialogue is natural and well-written too, and the emotional depth of some of the characters (and the shallowness of others) very well handled. In the hands of a less able author, the waking dreams of Sarah which start the chapters and offer tantalising part memories might not have worked – but they do, very well indeed.
Debut novel this might be, but there’s nothing of the “first novel” about it – this is an author who writes with confidence and skill, and who tells an excellent story.
And I finished by saying that I was really looking forward to seeing what the author did next. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed – A Fractured Winter has also now been republished by Bloodhound Books, but you’ll find my early review here. Both books come with my enthusiastic personal recommendation…
About the author
Alison Baillie was brought up in Ilkley, Yorkshire by Scottish parents. She studied English at the University of St Andrews, before teaching English in Edinburgh secondary schools and EFL in Finland and Switzerland. Now she spends her time reading, writing, travelling, spending time with her grandchildren and attending crime writing festivals.
Follow Alison on Twitter or through her Facebook author page: she also has a website where you can find out more about the author and her books.